Skip to main content

Full text of "Modern Times"

See other formats







Now available in a revised and updated edi- 
tion, the continuing national bestseller (nearly 
200,000 copies sold) about the events, ideas, 
and personalities of the seven decades since the 
end of World War I. Originally published in 
1983 and named one of the Best Books of the 
Year by the New York Times, this edition con- 
tains a new final chapter, and the text has been 
revised and updated. 

Modern times, says the author, began on 
May 29, 1919, when photographs of a solar 
eclipse confirmed the truth of a new theory of 
the universe — Einstein's Theory of Relativity. 
Paul Johnson then describes the full impact of 
Freudianism, the establishment of the first 
Marxist state, the chaos of "Old Europe," the 
Arcadian twenties and the new forces in China 
and Japan. Here are Keynes, Coolidge, Franco, 
the '29 Crash, the Great Depression and Roo- 
sevelt's New Deal. And there are the wars that 
followed — the Sino-Japanese, the Abyssinian 
and Albanian conflicts and the Spanish Civil 
War, a prelude to the massive conflict of World 
War II. The incredible repression and violence 
of the totalitarian regimes brought a new 
dimension to the solution of social and political 
problems, and in Germany, Russia and China 
we see this frightening aspect of the new 
"social engineering." 

Churchill, Roosevelt, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, 
Hirohito, Mussolini and Gandhi are the titans 
of this period. There are wartime tactics, strate- 
gy and diplomacy; the development of nuclear 
power and its use at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; 
the end of World War II and the harsh political 
realities of the uneasy peace that followed. The 
rise of the superpowers — Russia and the United 
States; the emergence of the Third World; the 
Marshall Plan and the Cold War; Tito, Nehru, 
de Gaulle, Eisenhower, Sukarno, Eden, Ade- 
nauer, Nasser, Ben Gurion and Castro are 
described. The book covers the economic 

(continued on back flap) 


(continued from front flap) 

resurgence of Europe and Japan; existentialism; 
Suez; Algeria; Israel; the New Africa of Kenya t- 
ta, Idi Amin and apartheid; the radicalizing of 
Latin America; the Kennedy years, Johnson 
and Vietnam, Nixon and Watergate, the Rea- 
gan years; Gorbachev and peresfcroika; Saddam 
Hussein and the Gulf War, And there are the 
Space Age, the expansion of scientific knowl- 
edge, the population explosion, religion in our 
times, world economic cycles, structuralism, 
generic engineering and sociobiology. 

Incisive, stimulating and frequently con- 
troversiai, Modern Times combines fact, anec- 
dote, incident and portrait in a major full-scale 
analysis of how the modern age came into 
being and where it is heading. 

PAUL JOHNSON was educated at Stonyhurst 
College, Lancashire, and Magdalen College, 
Oxford. He was assistant editor of Realties and 
was then on the staff of the New Statesman from 
1955 to 1970, the last six years as editor. In 1980 
and 1981 he was visiting professor of commu- 
nications at the American Enterprise Institute 
in Washington, D.C. He has received the Fran- 
cis Boyer Public Policy Award and the Krug 
Award for Excellence in Literature. Among his 
other books are A History of the Jews, A History 
of the English People, Intellectuals, and The Birth of 
tiie Modern: World Society 1815- JS30. 

jacket dcsigti © by One Plus One Studio 
Author photograph © by Mark Cersott 


'Truly a distinguished work of history . . . Modern Times unites historical and critical 
consciousness. It is far from being a simple chronicle, though a vast wealth of events 
and personages and historical changes fill it. . . .We can take a great deal of intellectual 
pleasure in this book." — Robert Nisbet, New York Times Book Review 

"A brilliant, densely textured, intellectually challenging book. Frequently surprises, 
even startles, us with new views of past events and fresh looks at the characters of the 
chief world movers and shakers, in politics, the military, economics, science, religion 
and philosophy for six decades." — Edmund Fuller, Wall Street Journal 

"Wide-ranging and quirky, this history of our times (since World War I) hits all the 
highlights and hot spots: the Russian Revolution, the rise of Hitler, World War II and 
on to the 1980s. ... A latter-day Mencken, Johnson is witty, gritty and compulsively 
readable." — Foreign Affairs 

"Johnson's insights are often brilliant and of value in their startling freshness." 

— Peter Loewenberg, Los Angeles Times 

"A marvelously incisive and synthesizing account. 

— David Gress, Commentary 

"A remarkable book. ... It is a powerful, lively, compelling and provocative political 
history of the world since 1917." — Hugh Thomas, Times Literary Supplement 

"A sweeping interpretation of world history since the failure of peacemaking at Ver- 
sailles in 1919. His central themes are the bankruptcy of moral relativism, social engi- 
neering, and totalitarian regimes, all linked in his analysis, and the superiority of open 
societies and free market capitalism. The book is bound to be controversial Never- 
theless, it is a fascinating book. Johnson's range is vast, his citations are impressive, 
and he has a knack for the apposite quotation. He sees the century as an age of 
slaughter, but also one of human improvement." — Library Journal 

"Paul Johnson's Modern Times is an extraordinary book: a comprehensive narrative 
history of the contemporary world, and at the same time a sustained and passionate 
meditation on the meaning of history in general, and of modernity in particular." 

— American Spectator 



The Ml from 
the Mies 
to the Nineties 


Paul Johnson 


This work is published in England under the title A History of the Modern World: From 1917 to 
the 1980s. 


Johnson. Revised edition copyright © 1991 by Paul Johnson. All rights reserved. Printed in the 
United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner 
whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical 
articles and reviews. For information address HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New 
York, NY 10022. 

library of congress catalog card number 91-55161 

isbn 0-06-433427-9 

91 92 93 94 95 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 

This book is dedicated 

to the memory of my father, W. A. Johnson, 

artist, educator and enthusiast 


Acknowledgements ix 

1 A Relativistic World 1 

2 The First Despotic Utopias 49 

3 Waiting for Hitler 104 

4 Legitimacy in Decadence 138 

5 An Infernal Theocracy, a Celestial Chaos 1 76 

6 The Last Arcadia 203 

7 Degringolade 230 

8 The Devils 261 

9 The High Noon of Aggression 309 

10 The End of Old Europe 341 

11 The Watershed Year 372 

12 Superpower and Genocide 398 

13 Peace by Terror 432 

14 The Bandung Generation 466 

15 Caliban's Kingdoms 506 

16 Experimenting with Half Mankind 544 

17 The European Lazarus 575 

18 America's Suicide Attempt 613 

19 The Collectivist Seventies 659 

20 The Recovery of Freedom 697 

Source Notes 785 
Index 841 



Among the many institutions and individuals to whom I am 
beholden I would especially like to thank the American Enterprise 
Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington, which gave me 
hospitality as a Resident Scholar; Dr Norman Stone, who read the 
manuscript and corrected many errors; my editor at Weidenfeld, 
Linda Osband; the copy-editor, Sally Mapstone; and my eldest son, 
Daniel Johnson, who also worked on the manuscript. 


Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; 
thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. 
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: 
be instructed, ye judges of the earth' 

Psalms, 2: 9-10 


A Relativistic World 

The modern world began on 29 May 1919 when photographs of a 
solar eclipse, taken on the island of Principe off West Africa and at 
Sobral in Brazil, confirmed the truth of a new theory of the universe. 
It had been apparent for half a century that the Newtonian cos- 
mology, based upon the straight lines of Euclidean geometry and 
Galileo's notions of absolute time, was in need of serious modifica- 
tion. It had stood for more than two hundred years. It was the 
framework within which the European Enlightenment, the Industrial 
Revolution, and the vast expansion of human knowledge, freedom 
and prosperity which characterized the nineteenth century, had 
taken place. But increasingly powerful telescopes were revealing 
anomalies. In particular, the motions of the planet Mercury deviated 
by forty-three seconds of arc a century from its predictable behaviour 
under Newtonian laws of physics. Why? 

In 1905, a twenty-six-year-old German Jew, Albert Einstein, then 
working in the Swiss patent office in Berne, had published a paper, 
'On the electrodynamics of moving bodies', which became known as 
the Special Theory of Relativity. 1 Einstein's observations on the way 
in which, in certain circumstances, lengths appeared to contract and 
clocks to slow down, are analogous to the effects of perspective in 
painting. In fact the discovery that space and time are relative rather 
than absolute terms of measurement is comparable, in its effect on 
our perception of the world, to the first use of perspective in art, 
which occurred in Greece in the two decades c. 500-480 bc. 2 

The originality of Einstein, amounting to a form of genius, and the 
curious elegance of his lines of argument, which colleagues compared 
to a kind of art, aroused growing, world-wide interest. In 1907 he 
published a demonstration that all mass has energy, encapsulated in 
the equation E = mc 2 , which a later age saw as the starting point in 
the race for the A-bomb. 3 Not even the onset of the European war 
prevented scientists from following his quest for an all-embracing 


General Theory of Relativity which would cover gravitational fields 
and provide a comprehensive revision of Newtonian physics. In 1915 
news reached London that he had done it. The following spring, as 
the British were preparing their vast and catastrophic offensive on 
the Somme, the key paper was. smuggled through the Netherlands 
and reached Cambridge, where it was received by Arthur Eddington, 
Professor of Astronomy and Secretary of the Royal Astronomical 

Eddington publicized Einstein's achievement in a 1918 paper for 
the Physical Society called 'Gravitation and the Principle of Relativ- 
ity'. But it was of the essence of Einstein's methodology that he 
insisted his equations must be verified by empirical observation and 
he himself devised three specific tests for this purpose. The key one 
was that a ray of light just grazing the surface of the sun must be bent 
by 1.745 seconds of arc — twice the amount of gravitational 
deflection provided for by classical Newtonian theory. The exper- 
iment involved photographing a solar eclipse. The next was due on 
29 May 1919. Before the end of the war, the Astronomer Royal, Sir 
Frank Dyson, had secured from a harassed government the promise 
of £1,000 to finance an expedition to take observations from 
Principe and Sobral. 

Early in March 1919, the evening before the expedition sailed, the 
astronomers talked late into the night in Dyson's study at the Royal 
Observatory, Greenwich, designed by Wren in 1675-6, while 
Newton was still working on his general theory of gravitation. E.T. 
Cottingham, Eddington's assistant, who was to accompany him, 
asked the awful question: what would happen if measurement of the 
eclipse photographs showed not Newton's, nor Einstein's, but twice 
Einstein's deflection? Dyson said, 'Then Eddington will go mad and 
you will have to come home alone.' Eddington's notebook records 
that on the morning of 29 May there was a tremendous thunder- 
storm in Principe. The clouds cleared just in time for the eclipse at 
1.30 pm. Eddington had only eight minutes in which to operate. 'I 
did not see the eclipse, being too busy changing plates . . . We took 
sixteen photographs.' Thereafter, for six nights he developed the 
plates at the rate of two a night. On the evening of 3 June, having 
spent the whole day measuring the developed prints, he turned to his 
colleague, 'Cottingham, you won't have to go home alone.' Einstein 
had been right. 4 

The expedition satisfied two of Einstein's tests, which were 
reconfirmed by W.W. Campbell during the September 1922 eclipse. 
It was a measure of Einstein's scientific rigour that he refused to 
accept that his own theory was valid until the third test (the 'red 
shift') was met. Tf it were proved that this effect does not exist in 


nature', he wrote to Eddington on 15 December 1919, 'then the 
whole theory would have to be abandoned'. In fact the 'red shift' was 
confirmed by the Mount Wilson observatory in 1923, and thereafter 
empirical proof of relativity theory accumulated steadily, one of the 
most striking instances being the gravitational lensing system of 
quasars, identified in 1979— 80. 5 At the time, Einstein's professional 
heroism did not go unappreciated. To the young philosopher Karl 
Popper and his friends at Vienna University, 'it was a great exper- 
ience for us, and one which had a lasting influence on my intellectual 
development'. 'What impressed me most', Popper wrote later, 'was 
Einstein's own clear statement that he would regard his theory as 
untenable if it should fail in certain tests .... Here was an attitude 
utterly different from the dogmatism of Marx, Freud, Adler and even 
more so that of their followers. Einstein was looking for crucial 
experiments whose agreement with his predictions would by no 
means establish his theory; while a disagreement, as he was the first 
to stress, would show his theory to be untenable. This, I felt, was the 
true scientific attitude.' 6 

Einstein's theory, and Eddington's much publicized expedition to 
test it, aroused enormous interest throughout the world in 1919. No 
exercise in scientific verification, before or since, has ever attracted 
so many headlines or become a topic of universal conversation. The 
tension mounted steadily between June and the actual announcement 
at a packed meeting of the Royal Society in London in September 
that the theory had been confirmed. To A.N. Whitehead, who was 
present, it was like a Greek drama: 

We were the chorus commenting on the decree of destiny as disclosed in the 
development of a supreme incident. There was dramatic quality in the very 
staging: the traditional ceremonial, and in the background the picture of 
Newton to remind us that the greatest of scientific generalizations was now, 
after more than two centuries, to receive its first modification ... a great 
adventure in thought had at last come home to shore. 7 

From that point onward, Einstein was a global hero, in demand at 
every great university in the world, mobbed wherever he went, his 
wistful features familiar to hundreds of millions, the archetype of the 
abstracted natural philosopher. The impact of his theory was im- 
mediate, and cumulatively immeasurable. But it was to illustrate 
what Karl Popper was later to term 'the law of unintended conse- 
quence'. Innumerable books sought to explain clearly how the 
General Theory had altered the Newtonian concepts which, for 
ordinary men and women, formed their understanding of the world 
about them, and how it worked. Einstein himself summed it up thus: 
'The "Principle of Relativity" in its widest sense is contained in the 


statement: The totality of physical phenomena is of such a character 
that it gives no basis for the introduction of the concept of "absolute 
motion"; or, shorter but less precise: There is no absolute motion.' 8 
Years later, R. Buckminster Fuller was to send a famous cable to the 
Japanese artist Isamu Noguchi explaining Einstein's key equation in 
exactly 249 words, a masterpiece of compression. 

But for most people, to whom Newtonian physics, with their 
straight lines and right angles, were perfectly comprehensible, rela- 
tivity never became more than a vague source of unease. It was 
grasped that absolute time and absolute length had been dethroned; 
that motion was curvilinear. All at once, nothing seemed certain in 
the movements of the spheres. The world is out of joint', as Hamlet 
sadly observed. It was as though the spinning globe had been taken 
off its axis and cast adrift in a universe which no longer conformed to 
accustomed standards of measurement. At the beginning of the 
1920s the belief began to circulate, for the first time at a popular 
level, that there were no longer any absolutes: of time and space, of 
good and evil, of knowledge, above all of value. Mistakenly but 
perhaps inevitably, relativity became confused with relativism. 

No one was more distressed than Einstein by this public misap- 
prehension. He was bewildered by the relentless publicity and error 
which his work seemed to promote. He wrote to his colleague Max 
Born on 9 September 1920: 'Like the man in the fairy-tale who turned 
everything he touched into gold, so with me everything turns into a 
fuss in the newspapers.' 9 Einstein was not a practising Jew, but he 
acknowledged a God. He believed passionately in absolute standards 
of right and wrong. His professional life was devoted to the quest not 
only for truth but for certitude. He insisted the world could be divided 
into subjective and objective spheres, and that one must be able to 
make precise statements about the objective portion. In the scientific 
(not the philosophical) sense he was a determinist. In the 1920s he 
found the indeterminacy principle of quantum mechanics not only 
unacceptable but abhorrent. For the rest of his life until his death in 
1955 he sought to refute it by trying to anchor physics in a unified field 
theory. He wrote to Born: 'You believe in a God who plays dice, and I 
in complete law and order in a world which objectively exists and 
which I, in a wildly speculative way, am trying to capture. I firmly 
believe, but I hope that someone will discover a more realistic way or 
rather a more tangible basis than it has been my lot to find.' 10 But 
Einstein failed to produce a unified theory, either in the 1920s or 
thereafter. He lived to see moral relativism, to him a disease, become a 
social pandemic, just as he lived to see his fatal equation bring into 
existence nuclear warfare. There were times, he said at the end of his 
life, when he wished he had been a simple watchmaker. 


The emergence of Einstein as a world figure in 1919 is a striking 
illustration of the dual impact of great scientific innovators on 
mankind. They change our perception of the physical world and 
increase our mastery of it. But they also change our ideas. The second 
effect is often more radical than the first. The scientific genius 
impinges on humanity, for good or ill, far more than any statesman 
or warlord. Galileo's empiricism created the ferment of natural 
philosophy in the seventeenth century which adumbrated the scienti- 
fic and industrial revolutions. Newtonian physics formed the frame- 
work of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and so helped to 
bring modern nationalism and revolutionary politics to birth. 
Darwin's notion of the survival of the fittest was a key element both 
in the Marxist concept of class warfare and of the racial philosophies 
which shaped Hitlerism. Indeed the political and social consequences 
of Darwinian ideas have yet to work themselves out, as we shall see 
throughout this book. So, too, the public response to relativity was 
one of the principal formative influences on the course of 
twentieth-century history. It formed a knife, inadvertently wielded 
by its author, to help cut society adrift from its traditional moorings 
in the faith and morals of Judeo-Christian culture. 

The impact of relativity was especially powerful because it vir- 
tually coincided with the public reception of Freudianism. By the 
time Eddington verified Einstein's General Theory, Sigmund Freud 
was already in his mid-fifties. Most of his really original work had 
been done by the turn of the century. The Interpretation of Dreams 
had been published as long ago as 1900. He was a well-known and 
controversial figure in specialized medical and psychiatric circles, 
had already founded his own school and enacted a spectacular 
theological dispute with his leading disciple, Carl Jung, before the 
Great War broke out. But it was only at the end of the war that his 
ideas began to circulate as common currency. 

The reason for this was the attention the prolonged trench-fighting 
focused on cases of mental disturbance caused by stress: 'shell-shock' 
was the popular term. Well-born scions of military families, who had 
volunteered for service, fought with conspicuous gallantry and been 
repeatedly decorated, suddenly broke. They could not be cowards, 
they were not madmen. Freud had long offered, in psychoanalysis, 
what seemed to be a sophisticated alternative to the 'heroic' methods 
of curing mental illness, such as drugs, bullying, or electric-shock 
treatment. Such methods had been abundantly used, in ever-growing 
doses, as the war dragged on, and as 'cures' became progressively 
short-lived. When the electric current was increased, men died under 
treatment, or committed suicide rather than face more, like victims 
of the Inquisition. The post-war fury of relatives at the cruelties 


inflicted in military hospitals, especially the psychiatric division of 
the Vienna General Hospital, led the Austrian government in 1920 to 
set up a commission of inquiry, which called in Freud. 11 The 
resulting controversy, though inconclusive, gave Freud the world- 
wide publicity he needed. Professionally, 1920 was the year of 
breakthrough for him, when the first psychiatric polyclinic was 
opened in Berlin, and his pupil and future biographer, Ernest Jones, 
launched the International Journal of Psycho- Analysis, 

But even more spectacular, and in the long run far more impor- 
tant, was the sudden discovery of Freud's works and ideas by 
intellectuals and artists. As Havelock Ellis said at the time, to the 
Master's indignation, Freud was not a scientist but a great artist. 12 
After eighty years' experience, his methods of therapy have proved, 
on the whole, costly failures, more suited to cosset the unhappy than 
cure the sick. 13 We now know that many of the central ideas of 
psychoanalysis have no basis in biology. They were, indeed, formu- 
lated by Freud before the discovery of Mendel's Laws, the chromoso- 
mal theory of inheritance, the recognition of inborn metabolic errors, 
the existence of hormones and the mechanism of the nervous 
impulse, which collectively invalidate them. As Sir Peter Medawar 
has put it, psychoanalysis is akin to Mesmerism and phrenology: it 
contains isolated nuggets of truth, but the general theory is false. 14 
Moreover, as the young Karl Popper correctly noted at the time, 
Freud's attitude to scientific proof was very different to Einstein's 
and more akin to Marx's. Far from formulating his theories with a 
high degree of specific content which invited empirical testing and 
refutation, Freud made them all-embracing and difficult to test at all. 
And, like Marx's followers, when evidence did turn up which 
appeared to refute them, he modified the theories to accommodate it. 
Thus the Freudian corpus of belief was subject to continual expan- 
sion and osmosis, like a religious system in its formative period. As 
one would expect, internal critics, like Jung, were treated as heretics; 
external ones, like Havelock Ellis, as infidels. Freud betrayed signs, 
in fact, of the twentieth-century messianic ideologue at his worst - 
namely, a persistent tendency to regard those who diverged from him 
as themselves unstable and in need of treatment. Thus Ellis's 
disparagement of his scientific status was dismissed as 'a highly 
sublimated form of resistance'. 15 'My inclination', he wrote to Jung 
just before their break, 'is to treat those colleagues who offer 
resistance exactly as we treat patients in the same situation'. 16 Two 
decades later, the notion of regarding dissent as a form of mental 
sickness, suitable for compulsory hospitalization, was to blossom in 
the Soviet Union into a new form of political repression. 

But if Freud's work had little true scientific content, it had literary 


and imaginative qualities of a high order. His style in German was 
magnetic and won him the nation's highest literary award, the 
Goethe Prize of the City of Frankfurt. He translated well. The 
anglicization of the existing Freudian texts became an industry in the 
Twenties. But the new literary output expanded too, as Freud 
allowed his ideas to embrace an ever-widening field of human 
activity and experience. Freud was a gnostic. He believed in the 
existence of a hidden structure of knowledge which, by using the 
techniques he was devising, could be discerned beneath the surface of 
things. The dream was his starting-point. It was not, he wrote, 
'differently constructed from the neurotic symptom. Like the latter, it 
may seem strange and senseless, but when it is examined by means of 
a technique which differs slightly from the free association method 
used in psychoanalysis, one gets from its manifest content to its 
hidden meaning, or to its latent thoughts.' 17 

Gnosticism has always appealed to intellectuals. Freud offered a 
particularly succulent variety. He had a brilliant gift for classical 
allusion and imagery at a time when all educated people prided 
themselves on their knowledge of Greek and Latin. He was quick to 
seize on the importance attached to myth by the new generation of 
social anthropologists such as Sir James Frazer, whose The Golden 
Bough began to appear in 1890. The meaning of dreams, the 
function of myth - into this potent brew Freud stirred an all- 
pervading potion of sex, which he found at the root of almost all 
forms of human behaviour. The war had loosened tongues over sex; 
the immediate post-war period saw the habit of sexual discussion 
carried into print. Freud's time had come. He had, in addition to his 
literary gifts, some of the skills of a sensational journalist. He was an 
adept neologian. He could mint a striking slogan. Almost as often as 
his younger contemporary Rudyard Kipling, he added words and 
phrases to the language: 'the unconscious', 'infantile sexuality', the 
'Oedipus complex', 'inferiority complex', 'guilt complex', the ego, 
the id and the super-ego, 'sublimation', 'depth-psychology'. Some of 
his salient ideas, such as the sexual interpretation of dreams or what 
became known as the 'Freudian slip', had the appeal of new intellec- 
tual parlour-games. Freud knew the value of topicality. In 1920, in 
the aftermath of the suicide of Europe, he published Beyond the 
Pleasure Principle, which introduced the idea of the 'death instinct', 
soon vulgarized into the 'death-wish'. For much of the Twenties, 
which saw a further abrupt decline in religious belief, especially 
among the educated, Freud was preoccupied with anatomizing 
religion, which he saw as a purely human construct. In The Future of 
an Illusion (1927) he dealt with man's unconscious attempts to 
mitigate unhappiness. 'The attempt to procure', he wrote, 'a protec- 


tion against suffering through a delusional remoulding of reality is 
made by a considerable number of people in common. The religions of 
mankind must be classed among the mass-delusions of this kind. No 
one, needless to say, who shares a delusion ever recognizes it as such.' 18 

This seemed the voice of the new age. Not for the first time, a prophet 
in his fifties, long in the wilderness, had suddenly found a rapt audience 
of gilded youth. What was so remarkable about Freudianism was its 
protean quality and its ubiquity. It seemed to have a new and exciting 
explanation for everything. And, by virtue of Freud's skill in 
encapsulating emergent trends over a wide range of academic 
disciplines, it appeared to be presenting, with brilliant panache arid 
masterful confidence, ideas which had already been half-formulated in 
the minds of the elite. That is what I have always thought!' noted an 
admiring Andre Gide in his diary. In the early 1 920s, many intellectuals 
discovered that they had been Freudians for years without knowing it. 
The appeal was especially strong among novelists, ranging from the 
young Aldous Huxley, whose dazzling Crome Yellow was written in 
1 92 1 , to the sombrely conservative Thomas Mann, to whom Freud was 
'an oracle'. 

The impact of Einstein and Freud upon intellectuals and creative 
artists was all the greater in that the coming of peace had made them 
aware that a fundamental revolution had been and was still taking place 
in the whole world of culture, of which the concepts of relativity and 
Freudianism seemed both portents and echoes. This revolution had 
deep pre-war roots. It had already begun in 1905, when it was 
trumpeted in a public speech, made appropriately enough by the 
impresario Sergei Diaghilev of the Ballets Russes: 

We are witnesses of the greatest moment of summing-up in history, in the name 
of a new and unknown culture, which will be created by us, and which will also 
sweep us away. That is why, without fear or misgiving, I raise my glass to the 
ruined walls of the beautiful palaces, as well as to the new commandments of a 
new aesthetic. The only wish that I, an incorrigible sensualist, can express, is 
that the forthcoming struggle should not damage the amenities of life, and that 
the death should be as beautiful and as illuminating as the resurrection. 19 

As Diaghilev spoke, the first exhibition of the Fauves was to be seen in 
Paris. In 1913 he staged there Stravinsky's Sacredu Printemps; by then 
Schoenberg had published the atonal Drei Klavierstucke and Alban 
Berg his String Quartet (Opus 3); and Matisse had invented the term 
'Cubism'. It was in 1909 that the Futurists published their manifesto 
and Kurt Hiller founded his Neue Club in Berlin, the nest of the artistic 
movement which, in 1911, was first termed Expressionism. 20 Nearly 
all the major creative figures of the 1920s had already been published, 
exhibited or performed before 1914, and in that sense the Modern 


Movement was a pre-war phenomenon. But it needed the desperate 
convulsions of the great struggle, and the crashing of regimes it 
precipitated, to give modernism the radical political dimension it had 
hitherto lacked, and the sense of a ruined world on which it would 
construct a new one. The elegiac, even apprehensive, note Diaghilev 
struck in 1905 was thus remarkably perceptive. The cultural and 
political strands of change could not be separated, any more than 
during the turbulence of revolution and romanticism of 1790-1830. 
It has been noted that James Joyce, Tristan Tzara and Lenin were all 
resident-exiles in Zurich in 1916, waiting for their time to come. 21 
With the end of the war, modernism sprang onto what seemed an 
empty stage in a blaze of publicity. On the evening of 9 November 
1918 an Expressionist Council of Intellectuals met in the Reichstag 
building in Berlin, demanding the nationalization of the theatres, the 
state subsidization of the artistic professions and the demolition of 
all academies. Surrealism, which might have been designed to give 
visual expression to Freudian ideas — though its origins were quite 
independent — had its own programme of action, as did Futurism and 
Dada. But this was surface froth. Deeper down, it was the disorienta- 
tion in space and time induced by relativity, and the sexual gnostic- 
ism of Freud, which seemed to be characterized in the new creative 
models. On 23 June 1919 Marcel Proust published A V Ombre des 
jeunes filles, the beginning of a vast experiment in disjointed time 
and subterranean sexual emotions which epitomized the new pre- 
occupations. Six months later, on 10 December, he was awarded the 
Prix Goncourt, and the centre of gravity of French letters had made a 
decisive shift away from the great survivors of the nineteenth 
century. 22 Of course as yet such works circulated only among the 
influential few. Proust had to publish his first volume at his own 
expense and sell it at one-third the cost of production (even as late as 
1956, the complete A la Recherche du temps perdu was still selling 
less than 10,000 sets a year). 23 James Joyce, also working in Paris, 
could not be published at all in the British Isles. His Ulysses, 
completed in 1922, had to be issued by a private press and smuggled 
across frontiers. But its significance was not missed. No novel 
illustrated more clearly the extent to which Freud's concepts had 
passed into the language of literature. That same year, 1922, the poet 
T.S.Eliot, himself a newly identified prophet of the age, wrote that it 
had 'destroyed the whole of the nineteenth century'. 24 Proust and 
Joyce, the two great harbingers and centre-of-gravity-shifters, had no 
place for each other in the Weltanschauung they inadvertently 
shared. They met in Paris on 18 May 1922, after the first night of 
Stravinsky's Renard, at a party for Diaghilev and the cast, attended 
by the composer and his designer, Pablo Picasso. Proust, who had 


already insulted Stravinsky, unwisely gave Joyce a lift home in his 
taxi. The drunken Irishman assured him he had not read one 
syllable of his works and Proust, incensed, reciprocated the com- 
pliment, before driving on to the Ritz where he had an arrangement 
to be fed at any hour of the night. 25 Six months later he was dead, 
but not before he had been acclaimed as the literary interpreter of 
Einstein in an essay by the celebrated mathematician Camille Vet- 
tard. 26 Joyce dismissed him, in Finnegans Wake, with a pun: 'Prost 

The notion of writers like Proust and Joyce 'destroying' the 
nineteenth century, as surely as Einstein and Freud were doing with 
their ideas, is not so fanciful as it might seem. The nineteenth 
century saw the climax of the philosophy of personal responsibility 
— the notion that each of us is individually accountable for our 
actions — which was the joint heritage of Judeo-Christianity and the 
classical world. As Lionel Trilling, analysing Eliot's verdict on 
Ulysses, was to point out, during the nineteenth century it was 
possible for a leading aesthete like Walter Pater, in The Renaiss- 
ance, to categorize the ability 'to burn with a hard, gem-like flame' 
as 'success in life'. 'In the nineteenth century', Trilling wrote, even 
'a mind as exquisite and detached as Pater's could take it for 
granted that upon the life of an individual person a judgment of 
success or failure might be passed.' 27 The nineteenth-century novel 
had been essentially concerned with the moral or spiritual success 
of the individual. A la Recherche and Ulysses marked not merely 
the entrance of the anti-hero but the destruction of individual hero- 
ism as a central element in imaginative creation, and a contemptu- 
ous lack of concern for moral balance-striking and verdicts. The 
exercise of individual free will ceased to be the supremely interesting 
feature of human behaviour. 

That was in full accordance with the new forces shaping the 
times. Marxism, now for the first time easing itself into the seat of 
power, was another form of gnosticism claiming to peer through 
the empirically-perceived veneer of things to the hidden truth 
beneath. In words which strikingly foreshadow the passage from 
Freud I have just quoted, Marx had pronounced: 'The final pattern 
of economic relationships as seen on the surface ... is very different 
from, and indeed quite the reverse of, their inner but concealed 
essential pattern.' 29. On the surface, men appeared to be exercising 
their free will, taking decisions, determining events. In reality, to 
those familiar with the methods of dialectical materialism, such 
individuals, however powerful, were seen to be mere flotsam, 
hurled hither and thither by the irresistible surges of economic 
forces. The ostensible behaviour of individuals merely concealed 


class patterns of which they were almost wholly unaware but 
powerless to defy. 

Equally, in the Freudian analysis, the personal conscience, which 
stood at the very heart of the Judeo-Christian ethic, and was the 
principal engine of individualistic achievement, was dismissed as a 
mere safety-device, collectively created, to protect civilized order 
from the fearful aggressiveness of human beings. Freudianism was 
many things, but if it had an essence it was the description of guilt. 
'The tension between the harsh super-ego and the ego that is 
subjected to it', Freud wrote in 1920, 'is called by us the sense of 
guilt .... Civilization obtains mastery over the individual's danger- 
ous desire for aggression by weakening and disarming it and by 
setting up an agency within him to watch over it, like a garrison in a 
conquered city.' Feelings of guilt were thus a sign not of vice, but of 
virtue. The super-ego or conscience was the drastic price the individ- 
ual paid for preserving civilization, and its cost in misery would 
increase inexorably as civilization advanced: 'A threatened external 
unhappiness . . . has been exchanged for a permanent internal 
unhappiness, for the tension of the sense of guilt.' Freud said he 
intended to show that guilt-feelings, unjustified by any human 
frailty, were 'the most important problem in the development of 
civilization'. 29 It might be, as sociologists were already suggesting, 
that society could be collectively guilty, in creating conditions which 
made crime and vice inevitable. But personal guilt-feelings were an 
illusion to be dispelled. None of us was individually guilty; we were 
all guilty. 

Marx, Freud, Einstein all conveyed the same message to the 1920s: 
the world was not what it seemed. The senses, whose empirical 
perceptions shaped our ideas of time and distance, right and wrong, 
law and justice, and the nature of man's behaviour in society, were 
not to be trusted. Moreover, Marxist and Freudian analysis com- 
bined to undermine, in their different ways, the highly developed 
sense of personal responsibility, and of duty towards a settled and 
objectively true moral code, which was at the centre of nineteenth- 
century European civilization. The impression people derived from 
Einstein,, of a universe in which all measurements of value were 
relative, served to confirm this vision - which both dismayed and 
exhilarated - of moral anarchy. 

And had not 'mere anarchy', as W.B. Yeats put it in 1916, been 
'loosed upon the world'? To many, the war had seemed the greatest 
calamity since the fall of Rome. Germany, from fear and ambition, 
and Austria, from resignation and despair, had willed the war in a 
way the other belligerents had not. It marked the culmination of the 
wave of pessimism in German philosophy which was its salient 


characteristic in the pre-war period. Germanic pessimism, which 
contrasted sharply with the optimism based upon political change 
and reform to be found in the United States, Britain, France and even 
Russia in the decade before 1914, was not the property of the 
intelligentsia but was to be found at every level of German society, 
particularly at the top. In the weeks before the outbreak of 
Armageddon, Bethmann Hollweg's secretary and confident Kurt 
Riezler made notes of the gloomy relish with which his master 
steered Germany and Europe into the abyss. July 7 1914: The 
Chancellor expects that a war, whatever its outcome, will result in 
the uprooting of everything that exists. The existing world very 
antiquated, without ideas.' July 27: 'Doom greater than human 
power hanging over Europe and our own people.' 30 Bethmann 
Hollweg had been born in the same year as Freud, and it was as 
though he personified the 'death instinct' the latter coined as the 
fearful decade ended. Like most educated Germans, he had read Max 
Nordau's Degeneration, published in 1895, and was familiar with 
the degenerative theories of the Italian criminologist Cesare Lom- 
broso. War or no war, man was in inevitable decline; civilization was 
heading for destruction. Such ideas were commonplace in central 
Europe, preparing the way for the gasp of approbation which greeted 
Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West, fortuitously timed for 
publication in 1918 when the predicted suicide had been accom- 

Further West, in Britain, Joseph Conrad (himself an Easterner) had 
been the only major writer to reflect this pessimism, working it into a 
whole series of striking novels: Nostromo (1904), The Secret Agent 
(1907), Under Western Eyes (1911), Victory (1915). These despair- 
ing political sermons, in the guise of fiction, preached the message 
Thomas Mann was to deliver to central Europe in 1924 with The 
Magic Mountain, as Mann himself acknowledged in the preface he 
wrote to the German translation of The Secret Agent two years later. 
For Conrad the war merely confirmed the irremediable nature of 
man's predicament. From the perspective of sixty years later it must 
be said that Conrad is the only substantial writer of the time whose 
vision remains clear and true in every particular. He dismissed 
Marxism as malevolent nonsense, certain to generate monstrous 
tyranny; Freud's ideas were nothing more than 'a kind of magic 
show'. The war had demonstrated human frailty but otherwise 
would resolve nothing, generate nothing. Giant plans of reform, 
panaceas, all 'solutions', were illusory. Writing to Bertrand Russell 
on 23 October 1922 (Russell was currently offering 'solutions' to 
The Problem of China, his latest book), Conrad insisted: 'I have 
never been able to find in any man's book or any man's talk anything 


convincing enough to stand up for a moment against my deep-seated 
sense of fatality governing this man-inhabited world .... The only 
remedy for Chinamen and for the rest of us is the change of hearts. 
But looking at the history of the last 2,000 years there is not much 
reason to expect that thing, even if man has taken to flying .... Man 
doesn't fly like an eagle, he flies like a beetle.' 31 

At the onset of the war, Conrad's scepticism had been rare in the 
Anglo-Saxon world. The war itself was seen by some as a form of 
progress, H.G.Wells marking its declaration with a catchy volume 
entitled The War That Will End War. But by the time the armistice 
came, progress in the sense the Victorians had understood it, as 
something continuous and almost inexorable, was dead. In 1920, the 
great classical scholar J. B. Bury published a volume, The Idea of 
Progress, proclaiming its demise. 'A new idea will usurp its place as 
the directing idea of humanity .... Does not Progress itself suggest 
that its value as a doctrine is only relative, corresponding to a certain 
not very advanced stage of civilization?' 32 

What killed the idea of orderly, as opposed to anarchic, progress, 
was the sheer enormity of the acts perpetrated by civilized Europe 
over the past four years. That there had been an unimaginable, 
unprecedented moral degeneration, no one who looked at the facts 
could doubt. Sometime while he was Secretary of State for War 
(1919-21), Winston Churchill jotted down on a sheet of War Office 
paper the following passage: 

All the horrors of all the ages were brought together, and not only armies 
but whole populations were thrust into the midst of them. The mighty 
educated States involved conceived - not without reason - that their very 
existence was at stake. Neither peoples nor rulers drew the line at any deed 
which they thought could help them to win. Germany, having let Hell loose, 
kept well in the van of terror; but she was followed step by step by the 
desperate and ultimately avenging nations she had assailed. Every outrage 
against humanity or international law was repaid by reprisals - often of a 
greater scale and of longer duration. No truce or parley mitigated the strife 
of the armies. The wounded died between the lines: the dead mouldered 
into the soil. Merchant ships and neutral ships and hospital ships were sunk 
on the seas and all on board left to their fate, or killed as they swam. Every 
effort was made to starve whole nations into submission without regard to 
age or sex. Cities and monuments were smashed by artillery. Bombs from 
the air were cast down indiscriminately. Poison gas in many forms stifled or 
seared the soldiers. Liquid fire was projected upon their bodies. Men fell 
from the air in flames, or were smothered often slowly in the dark recesses 
of the sea. The fighting strength of armies was limited only by the manhood 
of their countries. Europe and large parts of Asia and Africa became one 


vast battlefield on which after years of struggle not armies but nations broke 
and ran. When all was over, Torture and Cannibalism were the only two 
expedients that the civilized, scientific, Christian States had been able to 
deny themselves: and they were of doubtful utility. 33 

As Churchill correctly noted, the horrors he listed were perpe- 
trated by the 'mighty educated States'. Indeed, they were quite 
beyond the power of individuals, however evil. It is a commonplace 
that men are excessively ruthless and cruel not as a rule out of 
avowed malice but from outraged righteousness. How much more is 
this true of legally constituted states, invested with all the seeming 
moral authority of parliaments and congresses and courts of justice! 
The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; 
of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the 
state and that destructive capacity necessarily expands too, pari 
passu. As the American pacifist Randolph Bourne snarled, on the eve 
of intervention in 1917, 'War is the health of the state.' 34 Moreover, 
history painfully demonstrates that collective righteousness is far 
more ungovernable than any individual pursuit of revenge. That was 
a point well understood by Woodrow Wilson, who had been 
re-elected on a peace platform in 1916 and who warned: 'Once lead 
this people into war and they'll forget there ever was such a thing as 
tolerance .... The spirit of ruthless brutality will enter into every 
fibre of our national life.' 35 

The effect of the Great War was enormously to increase the size, 
and therefore the destructive capacity and propensity to oppress, of 
the state. Before 1914, all state sectors were small, though most were 
growing, some of them fast. The area of actual state activity averaged 
between 5 and 10 per cent of the Gross National Product. 36 In 1913, 
the state's total income (including local government) as a percentage 
of gnp, was as low as 9 per cent in America. In Germany, which 
from the time of Bismarck had begun to construct a formidable 
apparatus of welfare provisions, it was twice as much, 18 per cent; 
and in Britain, which had followed in Germany's wake since 1906, it 
was 13 per cent. 37 In France the state had always absorbed a 
comparatively large slice of the gnp. But it was in Japan and, above 
all, in Imperial Russia that the state was assuming an entirely new 
role in the life of the nation by penetrating all sectors of the industrial 

In both countries, for purposes of military imperialism, the state 
was forcing the pace of industrialization to 'catch up' with the more 
advanced economies. But in Russia the predominance of the state in 
every area of economic life was becoming the central fact of society. 
The state owned oilfields, gold and coal mines, two-thirds of the 


railway system, thousands of factories. There were 'state peasants' in 
the New Territories of the east. 38 Russian industry, even when not 
publicly owned, had an exceptionally high dependence on tariff 
barriers, state subsidies, grants and loans, or was interdependent 
with the public sector. The links between the Ministry of Finance and 
the big banks were close, with civil servants appointed to their 
boards. 39 In addition, the State Bank, a department of the Finance 
Ministry, controlled savings banks and credit associations, managed 
the finances of the railways, financed adventures in foreign policy, 
acted as a regulator of the whole economy and was constantly 
searching for ways to increase its power and expand its activities. 40 
The Ministry of Trade supervised private trading syndicates, regu- 
lated prices, profits, the use of raw materials and freight-charges, and 
placed its agents on the boards of all joint-stock companies. 41 Imper- 
ial Russia, in its final phase of peace, constituted a large-scale 
experiment in state collective capitalism, and apparently a highly 
successful one. It impressed and alarmed the Germans: indeed, fear 
of the rapid growth in Russia's economic (and therefore military) 
capacity was the biggest single factor in deciding Germany for war in 
1914. As Bethmann Hollweg put it to Riezler, 'The future belongs to 
Russia.' 42 

With the onset of the war, each belligerent eagerly scanned its 
competitors and allies for aspects of state management and interven- 
tion in the war economy which could be imitated. The capitalist 
sectors, appeased by enormous profits and inspired no doubt also by 
patriotism, raised no objections. The result was a qualitative and 
quantitative expansion of the role of the state which has never been 
fully reversed — for though wartime arrangements were sometimes 
abandoned with peace, in virtually every case they were eventually 
adopted again, usually permanently. Germany set the pace, speedily 
adopting most of the Russian state procedures which had so scared 
her in peace, and operating them with such improved efficiency that 
when Lenin inherited the Russian state-capitalist machine in 
1917—18, it was to German wartime economic controls that he, in 
turn, looked for guidance. 43 As the war prolonged itself, and the 
losses and desperation increased, the warring states became steadily 
more totalitarian, especially after the winter of 1916—17. In 
Germany the end of civilian rule came on 9 January 1917 when 
Bethmann Hollweg was forced to bow to the demand for unres- 
tricted submarine warfare. He fell from power completely in July, 
leaving General Ludendorff and the admirals in possession of the 
monster-state. The episode marked the real end of the constitutional 
monarchy, since the Kaiser forewent his prerogative to appoint and 
dismiss the chancellor, under pressure from the military. Even while 


still chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg discovered that his phone was 
tapped, and according to Riezler, when he heard the click would 
shout into it 'What Schweinhund is listening in?' 44 But phone- 
tapping was legal under the 'state of siege' legislation, which 
empowered area military commands to censor or suppress news- 
papers. Ludendorff was likewise authorized to herd 400,000 Belgian 
workers into Germany, thus foreshadowing Soviet and Nazi slave- 
labour methods. 45 In the last eighteen months of hostilities the 
German elite fervently practised what was openly termed 'War 
Socialism' in a despairing attempt to mobilize every ounce of 
productive effort for victory. 

In the West, too, the state greedily swallowed up the independence 
of the private sector. The corporatist spirit, always present in France, 
took over industry, and there was a resurgence of Jacobin patriotic 
intolerance. In opposition, Georges Clemenceau fought successfully 
for some freedom of the press, and after he came to supreme power 
in the agony of November 1917 he permitted some criticism of 
himself. But politicians like Malvy and Caillaux were arrested and 
long lists of subversives were compiled (the notorious 'Carnet B'), 
for subsequent hounding, arrest and even execution. The liberal 
Anglo-Saxon democracies were by no means immune to these 
pressures. After Lloyd George came to power in the crisis of 
December 1916, the full rigours of conscription and the oppressive 
Defence of the Realm Act were enforced, and manufacturing, 
transport and supply mobilized under corporatist war boards. 

Even more dramatic was the eagerness, five months later, with 
which the Wilson administration launched the United States into war 
corporatism. The pointers had, indeed, been there before. In 1909 
Herbert Croly in The Promise of American Life had predicted it 
could only be fulfilled by the state deliberately intervening to 
promote 'a more highly socialized democracy'. Three years later 
Charles Van Hise's Concentration and Control: a Solution of the 
Trust Problem in the United States presented the case for corporat- 
ism. These ideas were behind Theodore Roosevelt's 'New National- 
ism', which Wilson appropriated and enlarged to win the war. 46 
There was a Fuel Administration, which enforced 'gasless Sundays', 
a War Labor Policies Board, intervening in industrial disputes, a 
Food Administration under Herbert Hoover, fixing prices for com- 
modities, and a Shipping Board which launched 100 new vessels on 4 
July 1918 (it had already taken over 9 million tons into its operating 
control). 47 The central organ was the War Industries Board, whose 
first achievement was the scrapping of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, a 
sure index of corporatism, and whose members (Bernard Baruch, 
Hugh Johnson, Gerard Swope and others) ran a kindergarten for 


1920s interventionism and the New Deal, which in turn inspired the 
New Frontier and the Great Society. The war corporatism of 1917 
began one of the great continuities of modern American history, 
sometimes underground, sometimes on the surface, which culmi- 
nated in the vast welfare state which Lyndon Johnson brought into 
being in the late 1960s. John Dewey noted at the time that the war 
had undermined the hitherto irresistible claims of private property: 
'No matter how many among the special agencies for public control 
decay with the disappearance of war stress, the movement will never 
go backward.' 48 This proved an accurate prediction. At the same 
time, restrictive new laws, such as the Espionage Act (1917) and the 
Sedition Act (1918), were often savagely enforced: the socialist 
Eugene Debs got ten years for an anti-war speech, and one man who 
obstructed the draft received a forty-year sentence. 49 In all the 
belligerents, and not just in Russia, the climacteric year 1917 
demonstrated that private liberty and private property tended to 
stand or fall together. 

Thus the war demonstrated both the impressive speed with which 
the modern state could expand itself and the inexhaustible appetite 
which it thereupon developed both for the destruction of its enemies 
and for the exercise of despotic power over its own citizens. As the 
war ended, there were plenty of sensible men who understood the 
gravity of these developments. But could the clock be turned back to 
where it had stood in July 1914? Indeed, did anyone wish to turn it 
back? Europe had twice before experienced general settlements after 
long and terrible wars. In 1648 the treaties known as the Peace of 
Westphalia had avoided the impossible task of restoring the status 
quo ante and had in large part simply accepted the political and 
religious frontiers which a war of exhaustion had created. The 
settlement did not last, though religion ceased to be a casus belli. The 
settlement imposed in 1814-15 by the Congress of Vienna after the 
Napoleonic Wars had been more ambitious and on the whole more 
successful. Its object had been to restore, as far as possible, the 
system of major and minor divine-right monarchies which had 
existed before the French Revolution, as the only framework within 
which men would accept European frontiers as legitimate and 
durable. 50 The device worked in the sense that it was ninety-nine 
years before another general European war broke out, and it can be 
argued that the nineteenth century was the most settled and produc- 
tive in the whole history of mankind. But the peacemakers of 
1814-15 were an unusual group: a congress of reactionaries among 
whom Lord Castlereagh appeared a revolutionary firebrand and the 
Duke of Wellington an egregious progressive. Their working ass- 
umptions rested on the brutal denial of all the innovatory political 


notions of the previous quarter-century. In particular, they shared 
avowed beliefs, almost untinged by cynicism, in power-balances and 
agreed spheres of interest, dynastic marriages, private understand- 
ings between sovereigns and gentlemen subject to a common code 
(except in extremis), and in the private ownership of territory by 
legitimate descent. A king or emperor deprived of possessions in one 
part of Europe could be 'compensated', as the term went, elsewhere, 
irrespective of the nationality, language or culture of the inhabitants. 
They termed this a 'transference of souls', following the Russian 
expression used of the sale of an estate with its serfs, glebae 
ad$cripti. si 

Such options were not available to the peacemakers of 1919. A 
peace of exhaustion, such as Westphalia, based on the military lines, 
was unthinkable: both sides were exhausted enough but one, by 
virtue of the armistice, had gained an overwhelming military 
advantage. The French had occupied all the Rhine bridgeheads by 6 
December 1918. The British operated an inshore blockade, for the 
Germans had surrendered their fleet and their minefields by 21 
November. A peace by diktat was thus available. 

However, that did not mean that the Allies could restore the old 
world, even had they so wished. The old world was decomposing 
even before war broke out. In France, the anti-clericals had been in 
power for a decade, and the last election before the war showed a 
further swing to the Left. In Germany, the 1912 election, for the first 
time, made the Socialists the biggest single party. In Italy, the Giolitti 
government was the most radical in its history as a united country. In 
Britain the Conservative leader A.J. Balfour described his catastro- 
phic defeat in 1906 as 'a faint echo of the same movement which has 
produced massacres in St Petersburg, riots in Vienna and Socialist 
processions in Berlin'. Even the Russian autocracy was trying to 
liberalize itself. The Habsburgs anxiously sought new constitutional 
planks to shore themselves up. Europe on the eve of war was run by 
worried would-be progressives, earnestly seeking to satisfy rising 
expectations, eager above all to cultivate and appease youth. 

It is a myth that European youth was ruthlessly sacrificed in 1914 
by selfish and cynical age. The speeches of pre-war politicians were 
crammed with appeals to youth. Youth movements were a European 
phenomenon, especially in Germany where 25,000 members of the 
Wandervogel clubs hiked, strummed guitars, protested about pollu- 
tion and the growth of cities, and damned the old. Opinion-formers 
like Max Weber and Arthur Moeller van den Bruck demanded that 
youth be brought to the helm. The nation, wrote Bruck, 'needs a 
change of blood, an insurrection of the sons against the fathers, a 
substitution of the old by the young'. 52 All over Europe, sociologists 


were assiduously studying youth to find out what it thought and 

And of course what youth wanted was war. The first pampered 
'youth generation' went enthusiastically to a war which their elders, 
almost without exception, accepted with horror or fatalistic despair. 
Among articulate middle-class youth it was, at the outset at least, the 
most popular war in history. They dropped their guitars and seized 
their rifles. Charles Peguy wrote that he went 'eagerly' to the front 
(and death). Henri de Montherlant reported that he 'loved life at the 
front, the bath in the elemental, the annihilation of the intelligence 
and the heart'. Pierre Drieu la Rochelle called the war 'a marvellous 
surprise'. Young German writers like Walter Flex, Ernst Wurche and 
Ernst Jiinger celebrated what Jiinger called 'the holy moment' of 
August 1914. The novelist Fritz von Unger described the war as a 
'purgative', the beginning of 'a new zest for life'. Rupert Brooke 
found it 'the only life ... a fine thrill, like nothing else in the world'. 
For Robert Nichols it was 'a privilege'. 'He is dead who will not 
fight', wrote Julian Grenfell ('Into Battle'), 'and who dies fighting has 
increase.' Young Italians who got into the war later were if anything 
even more lyrical. 'This is the hour of the triumph of the finest 
values,' one Italian poet wrote, 'this is the Hour of Youth.' Another 
echoed: 'Only the small men and the old men of twenty' would 'want 
to miss it.' 53 

By the winter of 1916-17, the war-lust was spent. As the fighting 
prolonged itself endlessly, bloodied and disillusioned youth turned 
on its elders with disgust and rising anger. On all sides there was talk 
in the trenches of a reckoning with 'guilty politicians', the 'old gang'. 
In 1917 and still more in 1918, all the belligerent regimes (the United 
States alone excepted) felt themselves tested almost to destruction, 
which helps to explain the growing desperation and savagery with 
which they waged war. Victory became identified with political 
survival. The Italian and Belgian monarchies and perhaps even the 
British would not have outlasted defeat, any more than the Third 
Republic in France. Of course, as soon as victory came, they all 
looked safe enough. But then who had once seemed more secure than 
the Hohenzollerns in Berlin? The Kaiser Wilhelm II was bundled out 
without hesitation on 9 November 1918, immediately it was realized 
that a German republic might obtain better peace terms. The last 
Habsburg Emperor, Charles, abdicated three days later, ending a 
millennium of judicious marriages and inspired juggling. The Roma- 
novs had been murdered on 16 July and buried in a nameless grave. 
Thus the three imperial monarchies of east and central Europe, the 
tripod of legitimacy on which the ancien regime, such as it was, had 
rested, all vanished within a year. By the end of 1918 there was little 


chance of restoring any one of them, still less all three. The Turkish 
Sultan, for what he was worth, was finished too (though a Turkish 
republic was not proclaimed until 1 November 1922). 

At a stroke, the dissolution of these dynastic and proprietory 
empires opened up packages of heterogeneous peoples which had 
been lovingly assembled and carefully tied together over centuries. 
The last imperial census of the Habsburg empire showed that it 
consisted of a dozen nations: 12 million Germans, 10 million 
Magyars, 8.5 million Czechs, 1.3 million Slovaks, 5 million Poles, 4 
million Ruthenians, 3.3 million Romanians, 5.7 million Serbs and 
Croats, and 800,000 Ladines and Italians. 54 According to the 1897 
Russian imperial census, the Great Russians formed only 43 per cent 
of the total population; 55 the remaining 57 per cent were subject 
peoples, ranging from Swedish and German Lutherans through 
Orthodox Latvians, White Russians and Ukrainians, Catholic Poles, 
Ukrainian Uniates, Shia, Sunni and Kurdish Muslims of a dozen 
nationalities, and innumerable varieties of Buddhists, Taoists and 
animists. Apart from the British Empire, no other imperial conglom- 
erate had so many distinct races. Even at the time of the 1926 census, 
when many of the western groups had been prised away, there were 
still approximately two hundred peoples and languages. 56 By compa- 
rison, the Hohenzollern dominions were homogeneous and mono- 
glot, but they too contained huge minorities of Poles, Danes, 
Alsatians and French. 

The truth is that, during the process of settlement in eastern and 
central Europe, from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries, and during 
the intensive phase of urbanization which took place from the early 
eighteenth century onwards, about one-quarter of the area had been 
occupied by mixed races (including over ten million Jews) whose 
allegiance had hitherto been religious and dynastic rather than 
national. The monarchies were the only unifying principle of these 
multi-racial societies, the sole guarantee (albeit often a slender one) 
that all would be equal before the law. Once that principle was 
removed, what could be substituted for it? The only one available 
was nationalism, and its fashionable by-product irredentism, a term 
derived from the Italian Risorgimento and signifying the union of an 
entire ethnic group under one state. To this was now being added a 
new cant phrase, 'self-determination', by which was understood the 
adjustment of frontiers by plebiscite according to ethnic preferences. 

The two principal western Allies, Britain and France, had origin- 
ally no desire or design to promote a peace based on nationality. 
Quite the contrary. Both ran multiracial, polyglot overseas empires. 
Britain in addition had an irredentist problem of her own in Ireland. 
In 1918 both were led by former progressives, Lloyd George and 


Clemenceau, who under the agony of war had learned Realpolitik 
and a grudging respect for the old notions of 'balance', 'compensa- 
tion' and so forth. When, during the peace talks, the young British 
diplomat Harold Nicolson urged that it was logical for Britain to 
grant self-determination to the Greeks in Cyprus, he was rebuked 
by Sir Eyre Crowe, head of the Foreign Office: 'Nonsense, my dear 
Nicolson. . . . Would you apply self-determination to India, Egypt, 
Malta and Gibraltar? If you are not prepared to go as far as this, 
then you have not [sic] right to claim that you are logical. If you are 
prepared to go as far as this, then you had better return at once to 
London.' 57 (He might have added that Cyprus had a large Turkish 
minority; and for that reason it has still not achieved self- 
determination in the 1980s.) Lloyd George would have been happy 
to strive to keep the Austro-Hungarian empire together as late as 
1917 or even the beginning of 1918, in return for a separate peace. 
As for Clemenceau, his primary object was French security, and for 
this he wanted back not merely Alsace-Lorraine (most of whose 
people spoke German) but the Saar too, with the Rhineland hacked 
out of Germany as a French-oriented puppet state. 

Moreover, during the war Britain, France and Russia had signed 
a series of secret treaties among themselves and to induce other 
powers to join them which ran directly contrary to nationalist 
principles. The French secured Russian approval for their idea of a 
French-dominated Rhineland, in return for giving Russia a free 
hand to oppress Poland, in a treaty signed on 1 1 March 1917. 58 By the 
Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, Britain and France agreed to strip 
Turkey of its Arab provinces and divide them between themselves. 
Italy sold itself to the highest bidder: by the Secret Treaty of 
London of 26 April 1915 she was to receive sovereignty over 
millions of German-speaking Tyroleans, and of Serbs and Croats in 
Dalmatia. A treaty with Romania signed on 17 August 1916 gave her 
the whole of Transylvania and most of the Banat of Temesvar and 
the Bukovina, most of whose inhabitants did not speak Romanian. 
Another secret treaty signed on 16 February 1917 awarded Japan 
the Chinese province of Shantung, hitherto in Germany's commer- 
cial sphere. 59 

However, with the collapse of the Tsarist regime and the refusal 
of the Habsburgs to make a separate peace, Britain and France 
began to encourage nationalism and make self-determination a 'war 
aim'. On 4 June 1917 Kerensky's provisional government in Russia 
recognized an independent Poland; France began to raise an army 
of Poles and on 3 June 1918 proclaimed the creation of a powerful 
Polish state a primary objective. 60 Meanwhile in Britain, the Slavo- 
phile lobby headed by R.W.Seton- Watson and his journal, The 


New Europe, was successfully urging the break-up of Austria- 
Hungary and the creation of new ethnic states. 61 Undertakings and 
promises were given to many Slav and Balkan politicians-in-exile in 
return for resistance to 'Germanic imperialism'. In the Middle East, 
the Arabophile Colonel T.E.Lawrence was authorized to promise 
independent kingdoms to the Emirs Feisal and Hussein as rewards 
for fighting the Turks. In 1917 the so-called 'Balfour Declaration' 
promised the Jews a national home in Palestine to encourage them to 
desert the Central Powers. Many of these promises were mutually 
incompatible, besides contradicting the secret treaties still in force. In 
effect, during the last two desperate years of fighting, the British and 
French recklessly issued deeds of property which in sum amounted to 
more than the territory they had to dispose of, and all of which could 
not conceivably be honoured at the peace, even assuming it was a 
harsh one. Some of these post-dated cheques bounced noisily. 

To complicate matters, Lenin and his Bolsheviks seized control of 
Russia on 25 October 1917 and at once possessed themselves of the 
Tsarist diplomatic archives. They turned copies of the secret treaties 
over to western correspondents, and on 12 December the Manches- 
ter Guardian began publishing them. This was accompanied by 
vigorous Bolshevik propaganda designed to encourage Communist 
revolutions throughout Europe by promising self-determination to 
all peoples. 

Lenin's moves had in turn a profound effect on the American 
President. Woodrow Wilson has been held up to ridicule for more 
than half a century on the grounds that his ignorant pursuit of 
impossible ideals made a sensible peace impossible. This is no more 
than a half-truth. Wilson was a don, a political scientist, an 
ex-President of Princeton University. He knew he was ignorant of 
foreign affairs. Just before his inauguration in 1913 he told friends, 
'It would be an irony of fate if my administration had to deal chiefly 
with foreign affairs.' 62 The Democrats had been out of office for 
fifty-three years and Wilson regarded us diplomats as Republicans. 
When the war broke out he insisted Americans be 'neutral in fact as 
well as name'. He got himself re-elected in 1916 on the slogan 'He 
kept us out of war'. He did not want to break up the old Europe 
system either: he advocated 'peace without victory'. 

By early 1917 he had come to the conclusion that America would 
have a bigger influence on the settlement as a belligerent than as a 
neutral, and he did draw a narrow legal and moral distinction 
between Britain and Germany: the use of U-boats by Germany 
violated 'human rights', whereas British blockade-controls violated 
only 'property rights', a lesser offence. 63 Once in the war he waged it 
vigorously but he did not regard America as an ordinary combatant. 


It had entered the war, he said in his April 1917 message to 
Congress, 'to vindicate the principles of peace and justice' and to set 
up 'a concert of peace and action as will henceforth ensure the 
observance of these principles'. Anxious to be well-prepared for the 
peacemaking in September 1917 he created, under his aide Colonel 
Edward House and Dr S.E.Mezes, an organization of 150 academic 
experts which was known as 'the Inquiry' and housed in the 
American Geographical Society building in New York. 64 As a result, 
the American delegation was throughout the peace process by far the 
best-informed and documented, indeed on many points often the sole 
source of accurate information. 'Had the Treaty of Peace been 
drafted solely by the American experts,' Harold Nicolson wrote, 'it 
would have been one of the wisest as well as the most scientific 
documents ever devised.' 65 

However, the Inquiry was based on the assumption that the peace 
would be a negotiated compromise, and that the best way to make it 
durable would be to ensure that it conformed to natural justice and 
so was acceptable to the peoples involved. The approach was 
empirical, not ideological. In particular, Wilson at this stage was not 
keen on the League of Nations, a British idea first put forward on 20 
March 1917. He thought it would raise difficulties with Congress. 
But the Bolshevik publication of the secret treaties, which placed 
America's allies in the worst possible light as old-fashioned preda- 
tors, threw Wilson into consternation. Lenin's call for general 
self-determination also helped to force Wilson's hand, for he felt that 
America, as the custodian of democratic freedom, could not be 
outbid by a revolutionary regime which had seized power illegally. 
Hence he hurriedly composed and on 8 January 1918 publicly 
delivered the famous 'Fourteen Points'. The first repudiated secret 
treaties. The last provided for a League. Most of the rest were 
specific guarantees that, while conquests must be surrendered, the 
vanquished would not be punished by losing populations, nationality 
to be the determining factor. On 11 February Wilson added his 'Four 
Principles', which rammed the last point home, and on 27 September 
he provided the coping-stone of the 'Five Particulars', the first of 
which promised justice to friends and enemies alike. 66 The corpus of 
twenty-three assertions was produced by Wilson independently of 
Britain and France. 

We come now to the heart of the misunderstanding which 
destroyed any real chance of the peace settlement succeeding, and so 
prepared a second global conflict. By September 1918 it was evident 
that Germany, having won the war in the East, was in the process of 
losing it in the West. But the German army, nine million strong, was 
still intact and conducting an orderly retreat from its French and 


Belgian conquests. Two days after Wilson issued his 'Five Particu- 
lars', the all-powerful General Ludendorff astounded members of his 
government by telling them 'the condition of the army demands an 
immediate armistice in order to avoid a catastrophe'. A popular 
government should be formed to get in touch with Wilson. 67 Luden- 
dorff's motive was obviously to thrust upon the democratic parties 
the odium of surrendering Germany's territorial gains. But he also 
clearly considered Wilson's twenty-three pronouncements collec- 
tively as a guarantee that Germany would not be dismembered or 
punished but would retain its integrity and power substantially 
intact. In the circumstances this was as much as she could reasonably 
have hoped for; indeed more, for the second of the 14 Points, on 
freedom of the seas, implied the lifting of the British blockade. The 
civil authorities took the same view, and on 4 October the 
Chancellor, Prince Max of Baden, opened negotiations for an 
armistice with Wilson on the basis of his statements. The Austrians, 
on an even more optimistic assumption, followed three days later. 68 
Wilson, who now had an army of four million and who was 
universally believed to be all-powerful, with Britain and France 
firmly in his financial and economic grip, responded favourably. 
Following exchanges of notes, on 5 November he offered the 
Germans an armistice on the basis of the 14 Points, subject only to 
two Allied qualifications: the freedom of the seas (where Britain 
reserved her rights of interpretation) and compensation for war 
damage. It was on this understanding that the Germans agreed to lay 
down their arms. 

What the Germans and the Austrians did not know was that, on 
29 October, Colonel House, Wilson's special envoy and US repre- 
sentative on the Allied Supreme War Council, had held a long secret 
meeting with Clemenceau and Lloyd George. The French and British 
leaders voiced all their doubts and reservations about the Wilsonian 
pronouncements, and had them accepted by House who drew them 
up in the form of a 'Commentary', subsequently cabled to Wilson in 
Washington. The 'Commentary', which was never communicated to 
the Germans and Austrians, effectively removed all the advantages of 
Wilson's points, so far as the Central Powers were concerned. Indeed 
it adumbrated all the features of the subsequent Versailles Treaty to 
which they took the strongest objection, including the dismember- 
ment of Austria-Hungary, the loss of Germany's colonies, the 
break-up of Prussia by a Polish corridor, and reparations. 69 What is 
still more notable, it not only based itself upon the premise of 
German 'war guilt' (which was, arguably, implicit in Wilson's 
twenty-three points), but revolved around the principle of 'rewards' 
for the victors and 'punishments' for the vanquished, which Wilson 


had specifically repudiated. It is true that during the October 
negotiations Wilson, who had never actually had to deal with the 
Germans before, was becoming more hostile to them in consequence. 
He was, in particular, incensed by the torpedoing of the Irish civilian 
ferry Leinster, with the loss of 450 lives, including many women and 
children, on 12 October, more than a week after the Germans had 
asked him for an armistice. All the same, it is strange that he accepted 
the Commentary, and quite astounding that he gave no hint of it to 
the Germans. They, for their part, were incompetent in not asking 
for clarification of some of the points, for Wilson's style, as the 
British Foreign Secretary, A.J.Balfour, told the cabinet 'is very 
inaccurate. He is a first-rate rhetorician and a very bad draftsman.' 70 
But the prime responsibility for this fatal failure in communication 
was Wilson's. And it was not an error on the side of idealism. 

The second blunder, which compounded the first and turned it 
into a catastrophe, was one of organization. The peace conference 
was not given a deliberate structure. It just happened, acquiring a 
shape and momentum of its own, and developing an increasingly 
anti-German pattern in the process, both in substance and, equally 
important, in form. At the beginning, everyone had vaguely assumed 
that preliminary terms would be drawn up by the Allies among 
themselves, after which the Germans and their partners would 
appear and the actual peace-treaty be negotiated. That is what had 
happened at the Congress of Vienna. A conference programme on 
these lines was actually drawn up by the logical French, and handed 
to Wilson by the French ambassador in Washington as early as 29 
November 1918. This document had the further merit of stipulating 
the immediate cancellation of all the secret treaties. But its wording 
irritated Wilson and nothing more was heard of it. So the conference 
met without an agreed programme of procedure and never acquired 
one. 71 The modus operandi was made still more ragged by Wilson's 
own determination to cross the Atlantic and participate in it. This 
meant that the supposedly 'most powerful man in the world' could 
no longer be held in reserve, as a deus ex machina, to pronounce 
from on high whenever the Allies were deadlocked. By coming to 
Paris he became just a prime minister like the rest, and in fact lost as 
many arguments as he won. But this was partly because, as the 
negotiations got under way, Wilson's interest shifted decisively from 
his own twenty-three points, and the actual terms of the treaty, to 
concentrate almost exclusively on the League and its Covenant. To 
him the proposed new world organization, about which he had 
hitherto been sceptical, became the whole object of the conference. 
Its operations would redeem any failings in the treaty itself. This had 
two dire consequences. First, the French were able to get agreed 


much harsher terms, including a 'big' Poland which cut Prussia in 
two and stripped Germany of its Silesian industrial belt, a fifteen- 
year Allied occupation of the Rhineland, and enormous indemnities. 
Second, the idea of a preliminary set of terms was dropped. Wilson 
was determined to insert the League Covenant into the preliminary 
document. His Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, advised him that 
even such a putative agreement legally constituted a treaty and 
therefore required Congressional ratification. Fearing trouble in the 
Senate, Wilson then decided to go straight for a final treaty. 72 Of 
course there were other factors. Marshal Foch, the French genera- 
lissimo, feared that the announcement of agreed preliminary terms 
would accelerate the demobilization of France's allies, and so 
strengthen Germany's hand in the final stage. And agreement even 
between the Allies was proving so difficult on so many points that all 
dreaded the introduction of new and hostile negotiating parties, 
whose activities would unravel anything so far achieved. So the idea 
of preliminary terms was dropped. 73 

Hence when the Germans were finally allowed to come to Paris, 
they discovered to their consternation that they were not to negotiate 
a peace but to have it imposed upon them, having already rendered 
themselves impotent by agreeing to an armistice which they now 
regarded as a swindle. Moreover, Clemenceau, for whom hatred and 
fear of the Germans was a law of nature, stage-managed the 
imposition of the diktat. He had failed to secure agreement for a 
federated Germany which reversed the work of Bismarck, or for a 
French military frontier on the Rhine. But on 7 May 1919 he was 
allowed to preside over the ceremony at Versailles, where France had 
been humiliated by Prussia in 1871, at which the German delegation 
at last appeared, not in the guise of a negotiating party but as 
convicted prisoners come to be sentenced. Addressing the sullen 
German plenipotentiary, Count von Brockdorff-Rantzau, he chose 
his words carefully: 

You see before you the accredited representatives of the Allied and 
Associated powers, both small and great, which have waged without 
intermission for more than four years the pitiless war which was imposed 
on them. The hour has struck for the weighty settlement of our accounts. 
You asked us for peace. We are disposed to grant it to you. 74 

He then set a time-limit for outright acceptance or rejection. The 
Count's bitter reply was read sitting down, a discourtesy which 
infuriated many of those present, above all Wilson, who had become 
increasingly anti-German as the conference proceeded: 'What abo- 
minable manners .... The Germans are really a stupid people. They 
always do the wrong thing .... This is the most tactless speech I have 


ever heard. It will set the whole world against them.' In fact it did 
not. A.J.Balfour did not object to Brockdorff remaining seated. He 
told Nicolson, 'I failed to notice. I make it a rule never to stare at 
people when they are in obvious distress.' 76 There were stirrings of 
pity for the Germans among the British, and thereafter, until 28 
June when the Germans finally signed, Lloyd George made strenu- 
ous efforts to mitigate the severity of the terms, especially over the 
German— Polish frontier. He feared it might provoke a future war — 
as indeed it did. But all he got from a hostile Wilson and 
Clemenceau was a plebiscite for Upper Silesia. 77 Thus the Germans 
signed, 'yielding', as they put it, 'to overwhelming force'. 'It was as 
if, wrote Lansing, 'men were being called upon to sign their own 
death-warrants .... With pallid faces and trembling hands they 
wrote their names quickly and were then conducted back to their 
places.' 78 

The manner in which the terms were nailed onto the Germans 
was to have a calamitous effect on their new Republic, as we shall 
see. Lloyd George's last-minute intervention on their behalf also 
effectively ended the entente cordiale^ and was to continue to 
poison Anglo— French relations into the 1940s: an act of perfidy 
which General de Gaulle was to flourish bitterly in Winston Chur- 
chill's face in the Second World War. 79 At the time, many French- 
men believed Clemenceau had conceded too much, and he was the 
only politician in the country who could have carried what the 
French regarded as an over-moderate and even dangerous set- 
tlement. 80 The Americans were split. Among their distinguished 
delegation, some shared Wilson's anti-Germanism. 81 John Foster 
Dulles spoke of 'the enormity of the crime committed by Germany'. 
The slippery Colonel House was instrumental in egging on Wilson 
to scrap his 'points'. Wilson's chief adviser on Poland, Robert 
H.Lord, was next to Clemenceau himself the strongest advocate of 
a 'big' Poland. 82 But Lansing rightly recognized that the failure to 
allow the Germans to negotiate was a cardinal error and he 
considered Wilson had betrayed his principles in both form and 
substance. 83 His criticisms were a prime reason for Wilson's brutal 
dismissal of him early in 1920. 84 

Among the younger Americans, most were bitterly critical. 
William Bullitt wrote Wilson a savage letter: 'I am sorry that you 
did not fight our fight to the finish and that you had so little faith in 
the millions of men, like myself, in every nation who had faith in 
you .... Our government has consented now to deliver the suffer- 
ing peoples of the world to new oppressions, subjections and 
dismemberments — a new century of war.' 85 Samuel Eliot Morrison, 
Christian Herter and Adolf Berle shared this view. Walter 


Lippmann wrote: 'In my opinion the Treaty is not only illiberal and 
in bad faith, it is in the highest degree imprudent.' 86 

Many of these young men were to be influential later. But they 
were overshadowed by a still more vehement critic in the British 
delegation who was in a position to strike a devastating blow at the 
settlement immediately. John Maynard Keynes was a clever Cam- 
bridge don, a wartime civil servant and a Treasury representative at 
the conference. He was not interested in military security, frontiers 
and population-shifts, whose intrinsic and emotional importance he 
tragically underestimated. On the other hand he had a penetrating 
understanding of the economic aspects of European stability, which 
most delegates ignored. A durable peace, in his view, would depend 
upon the speed with which the settlement allowed trade and manu- 
facturing to revive and employment to grow. In this respect the treaty 
must be dynamic, not retributive. 87 In 1916 in a Treasury memoran- 
dum, he argued that the 1871 indemnity Germany had imposed on 
France had damaged both countries and was largely responsible for 
the great economic recession of the 1870s which had affected the 
entire world. 88 He thought there should be no reparations at all or, if 
there were, the maximum penalty to be imposed on Germany should 
be £2,000 million: 'If Germany is to be "milked",' he argued in a 
preparatory paper for the conference, 'she must not first of all be 
ruined.' 89 As for the war debts in which all the Allies were entangled 
— and which they supposed would be paid off by what they got out of 
Germany — Keynes thought it would be sensible for Britain to let her 
creditors off. Such generosity would encourage the Americans to do 
the same for Britain, and whereas Britain would be paid by the 
Continentals in paper, she would have to pay the USA in real money, 
so a general cancellation would benefit her. 90 

In addition to limiting reparations and cancelling war-debts, 
Keynes wanted Wilson to use his authority and the resources of the 
United States to launch a vast credit programme to revitalize 
European industry — a scheme which, in 1947—8, was to take the 
form of the Marshall Plan. He called this 'a grand scheme for the 
rehabilitation of Europe'. 91 He sold this proposal to his boss, the 
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Austen Chamberlain, and in April 
1919 drafted two letters which Lloyd George sent to Wilson. The 
first argued 'the economic mechanism of Europe is jammed' and the 
proposal would free it; the second, that 'the more prostrate a country 
is and the nearer to Bolshevism, the more presumably it requires 
assistance. But the less likely is private enterprise to do it.' 92 It was 
Keynes's vieM Jiat America was enjoying a unique 'moment' in 
world affairs, and that Wilson should avoid trying to dictate 
post-war boundaries and the shape of the League and, instead, use 


US food supplies and economic power to aid Europe's long-term 
recovery. A prosperous Europe would be more likely to forget the 
bitter memories of the immediate past and to place in perspective the 
frontier adjustments which were now so fraught with passion. 

There was much wisdom and some justice in Keynes's view, and he 
was certainly right about America's role, as some American his- 
torians now recognize. 93 But Wilson, obsessed by the League and 
uninterested in economic revival, brushed aside Lloyd George's 
pleas, and the US Treasury was horrified by Keynes's ideas. Its 
representatives, complained Keynes, were 'formally interdicted' from 
'discussing any such question with us even in private conversation'. 94 
There could be no question of cancelling war-debts. Keynes's disgust 
with the Americans boiled over: 'They had a chance of taking a large, 
or at least humane view of the world, but unhesitatingly refused it,' 
he wrote to a friend. Wilson was 'the greatest fraud on earth'. 95 He 
was even more horrified when he read the Treaty through and 
grasped what he saw as the appalling cumulative effect of its 
provisions, particularly the reparations clauses. The 'damned 
Treaty', as he called it, was a formula for economic disaster and future 
war. On 26 May 1919 he resigned from the British delegation. 'How 
can you expect me', he wrote to Chamberlain, 'to assist at this tragic 
farce any longer, seeking to lay the foundation, as a Frenchman put 
it, "d'une guerre juste et durable" V He told Lloyd George: 'I am 
slipping away from this scene of nightmare.' 96 

Keynes's departure was perfectly understandable, for the settle- 
ment his wit and eloquence had failed to avert was a fait accompli. 
But what he now proceeded to do made infinitely more serious the 
errors of judgement he had so correctly diagnosed. Keynes was a 
man of two worlds. He enjoyed the world of banking and politics in 
which his gifts allowed him to flourish whenever he chose to do so. 
But he was also an academic, an aesthete, a homosexual and a 
member both of the secret Cambridge society, The Apostles, and of 
its adjunct and offspring, the Bloomsbury Group. Most of his friends 
were pacifists: Lytton Strachey, the unofficial leader of the Blooms- 
berries, Strachey's brother James, David Garnett, Clive Bell, Adrian 
Stephen, Gerald Shove, Harry Norton and Duncan Grant. 97 When 
conscription was introduced, some of them, rather than serve, 
preferred to be hauled before tribunals as conscientious objectors, 
Lytton Strachey featuring in a widely publicized and, to him, heroic 
case. They did not approve of Keynes joining the Treasury, seeing it 
as 'war work', however non-belligerent. In February 1916, he found 
on his plate at breakfast an insidious note from Strachey, the pacifist 
equivalent of a white feather: 'Dear Maynard, Why are you still at 
the Treasury? Yours, Lytton.' When Duncan Grant, with whom 


Keynes was having an affair, was up before a tribunal in Ipswich, 
Keynes put the case for him, flourishing his Treasury briefcase with 
the royal cipher to intimidate the tribunal members, who were 
country small-fry. But he was ashamed of his job when with his 
friends. He wrote to Grant in December 1917: 'I work for a 
government I despise for ends I think criminal.' 98 

Keynes continued at the Treasury out of a residual sense of 
patriotism but the tensions within him grew. When the war he had 
hated culminated in a peace he found outrageous, he returned to 
Cambridge in a state of nervous collapse. Recovering, he sat down at 
once to write a scintillating and vicious attack on the whole 
conference proceedings. It was a mixture of truth, half-truth, mis- 
conceptions and flashing insights, enlivened by sardonic character- 
sketches of the chief actors in the drama. It was published before the 
end of the year as The Economic Consequences of the Peace and 
caused a world-wide sensation. The work is another classic illustra- 
tion of the law of unintended consequences. Keynes's public motive 
in writing it was to alert the world to the effects of imposing a 
Carthaginian Peace on Germany. His private motive was to reinstate 
himself with his friends by savaging a political establishment they 
blamed him for serving. It certainly succeeded in these objects. It also 
proved to be one of the most destructive books of the century, which 
contributed indirectly and in several ways to the future war Keynes 
himself was so anxious to avert. When that war in due course came, 
a young French historian, Etienne Mantoux, pointed an accusing 
finger at Keynes's philippic in a tract called The Carthaginian Peace: 
or the Economic Consequences of Mr Keynes. It was published in 
London in 1946, a year after Mantoux himself had been slaughtered 
and the same year Keynes died of cancer. 

The effect of Keynes's book on Germany and Britain was cumula- 
tive, as we shall see. Its effect on America was immediate. As already 
noted, the League of Nations was not Wilson's idea. It emanated 
from Britain. Or rather, it was the brain-child of two eccentric 
English gentlemen, whose well-meaning but baneful impact on world 
affairs illustrates the proposition that religious belief is a bad 
counsellor in politics. Walter Phillimore, who at the age of seventy- 
two chaired the Foreign Office committee whose report coined the 
proposal (20 March 1918), was an international jurist and author of 
Three Centuries of Treaties of Peace (1917). He was also a well- 
known ecclesiastical lawyer, a Trollopian figure, prominent in the 
Church Assembly, an expert on legitimacy, ritual, vestments and 
church furniture, as well as Mayor of leafy Kensington. As a judge he 
had been much criticized for excessive severity in sexual cases, 
though not towards other crimes. It would be difficult to conceive of 


a man less suited to draw up rules for coping with global Realpolitik, 
were it not for the existence of his political ally, Lord Robert Cecil, 
Tory mp and Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Cecil 
reacted against the political scepticism and cynicism of his prime 
minister father, Lord Salisbury, who had had to cope with Bismarck, 
by approaching foreign affairs with a strong dosage of religiosity. He 
was a nursery lawyer, whom his mother said 'always had two 
Grievances and a Right'. He had tried to organize opposition to 
bullying at Eton. As Minister responsible for the blockade he had 
hated trying to starve the Germans into surrender, and so fell on the 
League idea with enthusiasm. Indeed he wrote to his wife in August 
1918: 'Without the hope that [the League] was to establish a better 
international system I should be a pacifist.' 99 It is important to 
realize that the two men most responsible for shaping the League were 
quasi-pacifists who saw it not as a device for resisting aggression by 
collective force but as a substitute for such force, operating chiefly 
through 'moral authority'. 

The British military and diplomatic experts disliked the idea from 
the start. Colonel Maurice Hankey, the Cabinet Secretary and the 
most experienced military co-ordinator, minuted: '. . . any such 
scheme is dangerous to us, because it will create a sense of security 
which is wholly fictitious .... It will only result in failure and the 
longer that failure is postponed the more certain it is that this 
country will have been lulled to sleep. It will put a very strong lever 
into the hands of the well-meaning idealists who are to be found in 
almost every government who deprecate expenditure on armaments, 
and in the course of time it will almost certainly result in this country 
being caught at a disadvantage.' Eyre Crowe noted tartly that a 
'solemn league and covenant' would be like any other treaty: 'What 
is there to ensure that it will not, like other treaties, be broken?' The 
only answer, of course, was force. But Phillimore had not consulted 
the Armed Services, and when the Admiralty got to hear of the 
scheme they minuted that to be effective it would require more 
warships, not less. 100 All these warnings, made at the very instant the 
League of Nations was conceived, were to be abundantly justified by 
its dismal history. 

Unfortunately, once President Wilson, tiring of the Treaty negotia- 
tions themselves, with their necessary whiff of amoral Realpolitik, 
seized on the League, and made it the vessel of his own copious 
religious fervour, doubts were swept aside. His sponsorship of the 
scheme, indeed, served to strip it of such practical merits as it might 
have had. There is an historical myth that the European powers were 
desperately anxious to create the League as a means of involving the 
United States in a permanent commitment to help keep the peace; 


that Wilson shared this view; and that it was frustrated by Republi- 
can isolationism. Not so. Clemenceau and Foch wanted a mutual 
security alliance, with its own planning staff, of the kind which had 
finally evolved at Allied hq, after infinite pains and delays, in the last 
year of the war. In short, they wanted something on the lines which 
eventually appeared in 1948-9, in the shape of the North Atlantic 
Treaty Organization. They recognized that a universal system, to 
which all powers (including Germany) belonged, irrespective of their 
record, and which guaranteed all frontiers, irrespective of their 
merits, was nonsense. They were better informed of Congressional 
opinion than Wilson, and knew there was small chance of it 
accepting any such monstrosity. Their aims were limited, and they 
sought to involve America by stages, as earlier France had involved 
Britain. What they wanted America to accept, in the first place, was a 
guarantee of the Treaty, rather than membership of any League. 101 

This was approximately the position of Senator Cabot Lodge, the 
Republican senate leader. He shared the scepticism of both "the 
British experts and the French. Far from being isolationist, he was 
pro-European and a believer in mutual security. But he thought that 
major powers would not in practice accept the obligation to go to 
war to enforce the League's decisions, since nations eschewed war 
except when their vital interests were at stake. How could frontiers 
be indefinitely guaranteed by anything or anybody? They reflected 
real and changing forces. Would the US go to war to protect Britain's 
frontiers in India, or Japan's in Shantung? Of course not. Any 
arrangement America made with Britain and France must be based 
on the mutual accommodation of vital interests. Then it would mean 
something. By September 1919, Lodge and his supporters, known as 
the 'Strong Reservationists', had made their position clear: they 
would ratify the Treaty except for the League; and they would even 
accept US membership of the League provided Congress had a right 
to evaluate each crisis involving the use of American forces. 102 

It was at this juncture that Wilson's defects of character and 
judgement, and indeed of mental health, became paramount. In 
November 1918 he had lost the mid- term elections, and with them 
control of Congress, including the Senate. That was an additional 
good reason for not going to Paris in person but sending a bipartisan 
delegation; or, if he went, taking Lodge and other Republicans with 
him. Instead he chose to go it alone. In taking America into the war, 
he had said in his address to Congress of 2 April 1917: 'The world 
must be made safe for democracy.' His popular History of the 
American People presented democracy as a quasi-religious force, vox 
populi vox dei. The old world, he now told Congress, was suffering 
from a 'wanton rejection' of democracy, of its 'purity and spiritual 


power'. That was where America came in: 'It is surely the manifest 
destiny of the United States to lead in the attempt to make this spirit 
prevail.' 103 In that work, the League was the instrument, and he himself 
the agent, an embodiment of the General Will. 

It is not clear how Wilson, the ultra-democrat, came to consider 
himself the beneficiary of Rousseau's volonte generate, 2l concept soon 
to be voraciously exploited by Europe's new generation of dictators. 
Perhaps it was his physical condition. In April 1 9 1 9 he suffered his first 
stroke, in Paris. The fact was concealed. Indeed, failing health seems to 
have strengthened Wilson's belief in the righteousness of his course and 
his determination not to compromise with his Republican critics. In 
September 1919 he took the issue of the League from Congress to the 
country, travelling 8,000 miles by rail in three weeks. The effort 
culminated in a second stroke in the train on 25 September. 104 Again, 
there was a cover-up. On 10 October came a third, and massive, attack, 
which left his entire left side paralysed. His physician, Admiral Gary 
Grayson, admitted some months later, 'He is permanently ill physi- 
cally, is gradually weakening mentally, and can't recover.' 105 But 
Grayson refused to declare the President incompetent. The Vice- 
President, Thomas Marshall, a hopelessly insecure man known to 
history chiefly for his remark 'What this country needs is a good 
five-cent cigar', declined to press the point. The private secretary, 
Joseph Tumulty, conspired with Wilson himself and his wife Edith to 
make her the president, which she remained for seventeen months. 

During this bizarre episode in American history, while rumours 
circulated that Wilson was stricken with tertiary syphilis, a raving 
prisoner in a barred room, Mrs Wilson, who had spent only two years at 
school, wrote orders to cabinet ministers in her huge, childish hand 
('The President says . . .'), sacked and appointed them, and forged 
Wilson's signature on Bills. She, as much as Wilson himself, was 
responsible for the sacking of the Secretary of State, Lansing ('I hate 
Lansing', she declared) and the appointment of a totally inexperienced 
and bewildered lawyer, Bainbridge Colby, in his place. Wilson could 
concentrate for five or ten minutes at a time, and even foxily contrived 
to deceive his chief Congressional critic, Senator Albert Fall, who had 
complained, 'We have petticoat government! Mrs Wilson is president!' 
Summoned to the White House, Fall found Wilson with a long, white 
beard but seemingly alert (Fall was only with him two minutes). When 
Fall said, 'We, Mr President, we have all been praying for you,' Wilson 
snapped, 'Which way, Senator?', interpreted as evidence of his 
continuing sharp wit. 106 

Thus America in a crucial hour was governed, as Germany was to be 
in 1932—3, by an ailing and mentally impaired titan on the threshold of 
eternity. Had Wilson been declared incapable, there is little doubt that 


an amended treaty would have gone through the Senate. As it was, 
with sick or senile pertinacity he insisted that it should accept all he 
demanded, or nothing: 'Either we should enter the League fearlessly,' 
his last message on the subject read, 'accepting the responsibility and 
not fearing the role of leadership which we now enjoy ... or we 
should retire as gracefully as possible from the great concert of 
powers by which the world was saved.' 107 

Into this delicately poised domestic struggle, in which the odds 
were already moving against Wilson, Keynes's book arrived with 
devastating timing. It confirmed all the prejudices of the irreconcila- 
bles and reinforced the doubts of the reservationists; indeed it filled 
some of Wilson's own supporters with foreboding. The Treaty, 
which came before the Senate in March, required a two-thirds 
majority for ratification. Wilson's own proposal went down to 
outright defeat, 38—53. There was still a chance that Lodge's own 
amended text would be carried, and thus become a solid foreign 
policy foundation for the three Republican administrations which 
followed. But with a destructive zest Wilson from his sick-bed wrote 
to his supporters, in letters signed with a quavering, almost illegible 
hand, begging them to vote against. Lodge's text was carried 49-35, 
seven votes short of the two-thirds needed. Of the thirty-five against, 
twenty-three were Democrats acting on Wilson's orders. Thus 
Wilson killed his own first-born, and in doing so loosened the ties 
between Europe and even the well-disposed Republicans. In disgust, 
Lodge pronounced the League 'as dead as Marley's ghost'. 'As dead 
as Hector', said Senator James Reed. Warren Harding, the Republi- 
can presidential candidate, with a sneer at the Democrats' past, 
added: 'As dead as slavery.' When the Democrats went down to 
overwhelming defeat in the autumn of 1920, the verdict was seen as 
a repudiation of Wilson's European policy in its entirety. Eugene 
Debs wrote from Atlanta Penitentiary, where Wilson had put him: 
'No man in public life in American history ever retired so thoroughly 
discredited, so scathingly rebuked, so overwhelmingly impeached 
and repudiated as Woodrow Wilson.' 108 

Thus Britain and France were left with a League in a shape they 
did not want, and the man who had thus shaped it was disavowed by 
his own country. They got the worst of all possible worlds. 
American membership of a League on the lines Lodge had proposed 
would have transformed it into a far more realistic organization in 
general. But in the particular case of Germany, it would have had a 
critical advantage. Lodge and the Republican internationalists be- 
lieved the treaty was unfair, especially to Germany, and would have 
to be revised sooner or later. In fact the Covenant of the League 
specifically provided for this contingency. Article 19, often over- 


looked and in the end wholly disregarded, allowed the League 'from 
time to time' to advise the reconsideration of 'treaties which have 
become inapplicable' and whose 'continuance might endanger the 
peace of the world'. 109 An American presence in the League would 
have made it far more likely that during the 1920s Germany would 
have secured by due process of international law those adjustments 
which, in the 1930s, she sought by force and was granted by 

Wilson's decision to go for an international jurist's solution to 
Europe's post-war problems, rather than an economic one, and then 
the total collapse of his policies, left the Continent with a fearful 
legacy of inflation, indebtedness and conflicting financial claims. The 
nineteenth century had been on the whole a period of great price 
stability, despite the enormous industrial expansion in all the ad- 
vanced countries. Retail prices had actually fallen in many years, as 
increased productivity more than kept pace with rising demand. But 
by 1908 inflation was gathering pace again and the war enormously 
accelerated it. By the time the peace was signed, wholesale prices, on 
a 1913 index of 100, were 212 in the USA, 242 in Britain, 357 in 
France and 364 in Italy. By the next year, 1920, they were two and a 
half times the pre-war average in the USA, three times in Britain, five 
times in France and six times in Italy; in Germany the figure was 
1965, nearly twenty times. 110 The civilized world had not coped with 
hyper-inflation since the sixteenth century or on this daunting scale 
since the third century ad. 111 

Everyone, except the United States, was in debt. Therein lay the 
problem. By 1923, including interest, the USA was owed $11.8 
billion. Of this, Britain alone owed the USA $4.66 billion. But 
Britain, in turn, was owed $6.5 billion, chiefly by France, Italy and 
Russia. Russia was now out of the game, and the only chance France 
and Italy had of paying either Britain or the United States was by 
collecting from Germany. Why did the United States insist on trying 
to collect these inter-state debts? President Coolidge later answered 
with a laconic They hired the money, didn't they?' No more 
sophisticated explanation was ever provided. In an essay, 'Inter- 
Allied Debts', published in 1924, Bernard Baruch, the panjandrum of 
the War Industries Board and then Economic Adviser to the US 
Peace Delegation, argued, 'The US has refused to consider the 
cancellation of any debts, feeling that if she should - other reasons 
outside - the major cost of this and all future wars would fall upon 
her and thus put her in a position of subsidizing all wars, having 
subsidized one.' 112 Plainly Baruch did not believe this ludicrous 
defence. The truth is that insistence on war-debts made no economic 
sense but was part of the political price paid for the foundering of 


Wilsonism, leaving nothing but a hole. At the 1923 Washington 
conference, Britain amid much acrimony agreed to pay the USA £24 
million a year for ten years and £40 million a year thereafter. By the 
time the debts were effectively cancelled after the Great Slump, 
Britain had paid the USA slightly more than she received from the 
weaker financial Allies, and they in turn had received about £1,000 
million from Germany. 113 But of this sum, most had in fact been 
raised in loans in the USA which were lost in the recession. So the 
whole process was circular, and no state, let alone any individual, 
was a penny the better off. 

But in the meantime, the strident chorus of claims and counter- 
claims had destroyed what little remained of the wartime Allied 
spirit. And the attempt to make Germany balance everyone else's 
books simply pushed her currency to destruction. The indemnity 
levied by Germany on France in 1871 had been the equivalent of 
4,000 million gold marks. This was the sum the Reparations 
Commission demanded from Germany for Belgian war damage 
alone, and in addition it computed Germany's debt at 132,000 
million gms, of which France was to get 52 per cent. There were also 
deliveries in kind, including 2 million tons of coal a month. Germany 
had to pay on account 20,000 million gms by 1 May 1921. What 
Germany actually did pay is in dispute, since most deliveries were in 
property, not cash. The Germans claimed they paid 45,000 million 
gms. John Foster Dulles, the US member of the Reparations Com- 
mission, put it at 20-25,000 million gms. 114 At all events, after 
repeated reductions and suspensions, Germany was declared (26 
December 1922) a defaulter under Paragraphs 17-18 of Annex n of 
the Treaty, which provided for unspecified reprisals. On 1 1 January 
1923, against British protests, French and Belgian troops crossed the 
Rhine and occupied the Ruhr. The Germans then stopped work 
altogether. The French imposed martial law on the area and cut off 
its post, telegraph and phone communications. The German retail 
price-index (1913: 100) rose to 16,170 million. The political conse- 
quences for the Germans, and ultimately for France too, were 
dolorous in the extreme. 

Was the Treaty of Versailles, then, a complete failure? Many 
intellectuals thought so at the time; most have taken that view since. 
But then intellectuals were at the origin of the problem - violent 
ethnic nationalism - which both dictated the nature of the Versailles 
settlement and ensured it would not work. All the European nation- 
alist movements, of which there were dozens by 1919, had been 
created and led and goaded on by academics and writers who had 
stressed the linguistic and cultural differences between peoples at the 
expense of the traditional ties and continuing economic interests 


which urged them to live together. By 1919 virtually all European 
intellectuals of the younger generation, not to speak of their elders, 
subscribed to the proposition that the right to national self- 
determination was a fundamental moral principle. There were a few 
exceptions, Karl Popper being one. 115 These few argued that self- 
determination was a self-defeating principle since 'liberating' peo- 
ples and minorities simply created more minorities. But as a rule 
self-determination was accepted as unarguable for Europe, just as in 
the 1950s and 1960s it would be accepted for Africa. 

Indeed by 1919 there could be no question of saving the old 
arrangements in Central and Eastern Europe. The nationalists had 
already torn them apart. From the distance of seventy years it is 
customary to regard the last years of Austria-Hungary as a tranquil 
exercise in multi-racialism. In fact it was a nightmare of growing 
racial animosity. Every reform created more problems than it 
solved. Hungary got status within the empire as a separate state in 
1867. It at once began to oppress its own minorities, chiefly Slovaks 
and Romanians, with greater ferocity and ingenuity than it itself had 
been oppressed by Austria. Elections were suspect, and the rail- 
ways, the banking system and the principles of internal free trade 
were savagely disrupted in the pursuit of racial advantage imm- 
ediately any reform made such action possible. Czechs and other 
Slav groups followed the Hungarians' example. No ethnic group 
behaved consistently. What the Germans demanded and the Czechs 
refused in Bohemia, the Germans refused and the Italians and south 
Slovenes demanded in the South Tyrol and Styria. All the various 
Diets and Parliaments, in Budapest, Prague, Graz and Innsbruck, 
were arenas of merciless racial discord. In Galicia, the minority 
Ruthenians fought the majority Poles. In Dalmatia the .minority 
Italians fought the majority South Slavs. As a result it was imposs- 
ible to form an effective parliamentary government. All of the twelve 
central governments between 1900 and 1918 had to be composed 
almost entirely of civil servants. Each local government, from which 
minorities were excluded, protected its home industries where it 
was legally empowered to do so, and if not, organized boycotts of 
goods made by other racial groups. There was no normality in the 
old empire. 

But at least there was some respect for the law. In Imperial 
Russia there were anti-Jewish pogroms occasionally, and other 
instances of violent racial conflict. But the two Germanic empires 
were exceptionally law-abiding up to 1914; the complaint even was 
that their peoples were too docile. The war changed all that with a 
vengeance. There is truth in the historian Fritz Stern's remark that 
the Great War ushered in a period of unprecedented violence, and 


began in effect a Thirty Years' War, with 1919 signifying the 
continuation of war by different means. 116 Of course in a sense the 
calamities of the epoch were global rather than continental. The 
1918—19 influenza virus strain, a pandemic which killed forty 
million people in Europe, Asia and America, was not confined to the 
war areas, though it struck them hardest. 117 New-style outbreaks of 
violence were to be found almost everywhere immediately after the 
formal fighting ended. On 27 July-1 August, in Chicago, the USA 
got its first really big Northern race-riots, with thirty-six killed and 
536 injured. Others followed elsewhere: at Tulsa, Oklahoma, on 30 
May 1921, fifty whites and two hundred blacks were murdered. 118 
In Canada, on 17 June 1919, the leaders of the Winnipeg general 
strike were accused, and later convicted, of a plot to destroy 
constitutional authority by force and set up a Soviet. 119 In Britain, 
there was a putative revolution in Glasgow on 31 January 1919; and 
civil or class war was a periodic possibility between 1919 and the end 
of 1921, as the hair-raising records of cabinet meetings, taken down 
verbatim in shorthand by Thomas Jones, survive to testify. Thus, on 
4 April 1921, the cabinet discussed bringing back four battalions 
from Silesia, where they were holding apart frantic Poles and 
Germans, in order to 'hold London', and the Lord Chancellor 
observed stoically: 'We should decide without delay around which 
force loyalists can gather. We ought not to be shot without a fight 
anyway.' 120 

Even so it was in Central and Eastern Europe that the violence, 
and the racial antagonism which provoked it, were most acute, 
widespread and protracted. A score or more minor wars were fought 
there in the years 1919-22. They are poorly recorded in western 
histories but they left terrible scars, which in some cases were still 
aching in the 1960s and which contributed directly to the chronic 
instability in Europe between the wars. The Versailles Treaty, in 
seeking to embody the principles of self-determination, actually 
created more, not fewer, minorities, and much angrier ones (many 
were German or Hungarian), armed with far more genuine 
grievances. The new nationalist regimes thought they could afford to 
be far less tolerant than the old empires. And, since the changes 
damaged the economic infrastructure (especially in Silesia, South 
Poland, Austria, Hungary and North Yugoslavia), everyone tended 
to be poorer than before. 

Every country was landed with either an anguished grievance or an 
insuperable internal problem. Germany, with divided Prussia and 
lost Silesia, cried to heaven for vengeance. Austria was left fairly 
homogeneous — it even got the German Burgenland from Hungary — 
but was stripped bare of all its former possessions and left with a 


third of its population in starving Vienna. Moreover, under the 
Treaty it was forbidden to seek union with Germany, which made 
the Anschluss seem more attractive than it actually was. Hungary's 
population was reduced from 20 to 8 million, its carefully integrated 
industrial economy was wrecked and 3 million Hungarians handed 
over to the Czechs and Romanians. 121 

Of the beneficiaries of Versailles, Poland was the greediest and the 
most bellicose, emerging in 1921, after three years of fighting, twice 
as big as had been expected at the Peace Conference. She attacked the 
Ukrainians, getting from them eastern Galicia and its capital Lwow. 
She fought the Czechs for Teschen (Cieszyn), and failed to get it, one 
reason why Poland had no sympathy with the Czechs in 1938 and 
actually helped Russia to invade them in 1968, though in both cases 
it was in her long-term interests to side with Czech independence. 
She made good her 'rights' against the Germans by force, in both the 
Baltic and Silesia. She invaded newly free Lithuania, occupying Vilno 
and incorporating it after a 'plebiscite'. She waged a full-scale war of 
acquisition against Russia, and persuaded the Western powers to 
ratify her new frontiers in 1923. In expanding by force Poland had 
skilfully played on Britain's fears of Bolshevism and France's desire 
to have a powerful ally in the east, now that its old Tsarist alliance 
was dead. But of course when it came to the point Britain and France 
were powerless to come to Poland's assistance, and in the process she 
had implacably offended all her neighbours, who would certainly fall 
on her the second they got the opportunity. 

Meanwhile, Poland had acquired the largest minorities problem in 
Europe, outside Russia herself. Of her 27 million population, a third 
were minorities: West Ukrainians (Ruthenians), Belorussians, Ger- 
mans, Lithuanians, all of them in concentrated areas, plus 3 million 
Jews. The Jews tended to side with the Germans and Ukrainians, had 
a block of thirty-odd deputies in the parliament, and formed a 
majority in some eastern towns with a virtual monopoly of trade. At 
Versailles Poland was obliged to sign a special treaty guaranteeing 
rights to her minorities. But she did not keep it even in the Twenties, 
still less in the Thirties when her minorities policy deteriorated under 
military dictatorship. With a third of her population treated as 
virtual aliens, she maintained an enormous police force, plus a 
numerous but ill-equipped standing army to defend her vast fron- 
tiers. There was foresight in the remark of the Polish nobleman to the 
German ambassador in 1918, 'If Poland could be free, I'd give half 
my worldly goods. But with the other half I'd emigrate.' 122 

Czechoslovakia was even more of an artefact, since it was in fact a 
collection of minorities, with the Czechs in control. The 1921 census 
revealed 8,760,000 Czechoslovaks, 3,123,448 Germans, 747,000 


Magyars and 461,000 Ruthenians. But the Germans claimed it was 
deliberately inaccurate and that there were, in fact, far fewer in the 
ruling group. In any case, even the Slovaks felt they were persecuted 
by the Czechs, and it was characteristic of this 'country' that the new 
Slovak capital, Bratislava, was mainly inhabited not by Slovaks but 
by Germans and Magyars. 123 In the Twenties the Czechs, unlike the 
Poles, made serious efforts to operate a fair minorities policy. But the 
Great Depression hit the Germans much harder than the Czechs - 
whether by accident or design - and after that the relationship 
became hopelessly envenomed. 

Yugoslavia resembled Czechoslovakia in that it was a miniature 
empire run by Serbs, and with considerably more brutality than the 
Czechs ran theirs. In parts of it there had been continuous fighting 
since 1912, and the frontiers were not settled (if that is the word) 
until 1926. The Orthodox Serbs ran the army and the administra- 
tion, but the Catholic Croats and Slovenes, who had much higher 
cultural and economic standards, talked of their duty to 'European- 
ize the Balkans' (i.e., the Serbs) and their fears that they themselves 
would be 'Balkanized'. R.W.Seton-Watson, who had been in- 
strumental in creating the new country, was soon disillusioned by the 
way the Serbs ran it: The situation in Jugoslavia', he wrote in 1921, 
'reduces me to despair .... I have no confidence in the new constitu- 
tion, with its absurd centralism.' The Serb officials were worse than 
the Habsburgs, he complained, and Serb oppression more savage 
than German. 'My own inclination', he wrote in 1928, '. . . is to 
leave the Serbs and Croats to stew in their own juice! I think they are 
both mad and cannot see beyond the end of their noses.' 124 Indeed, 
MPs had just been blazing away at each other with pistols in the 
parliament, the Croat Peasant Party leader, Stepan Radic, being 
killed in the process. The country was held together, if at all, not so 
much by the Serb political police as by the smouldering hatred of its 
Italian, Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian and Albanian neighbours, 
all of whom had grievances to settle. 125 

Central and Eastern Europe was now gathering in the grisly 
harvest of irreconcilable nationalisms which had been sown through- 
out the nineteenth century. Or, to vary the metaphor, Versailles lifted 
the lid on the seething, noisome pot and the stench of the brew 
therein filled Europe until first Hitler, then Stalin, slammed it down 
again by force. No doubt, when that happened, elderly men and 
women regretted the easy-going dynastic empires they had lost. Of 
course by 1919 the notion of a monarch ruling over a collection of 
disparate European peoples by divine right and ancient custom 
already appeared absurd. But if imperialism within Europe was 
anachronistic, how much longer would it seem defensible outside it? 


Self-determination was not a continental principle; it was, or soon 
would be, global. Eyre Crowe's rebuke to Harold Nicolson at the Paris 
Conference echoed a point Maurice Hankey had made to Lord Robert 
Cecil when the latter was working on the embryo League of Nations 
scheme. Hankey begged him not to insist on a general statement of 
self-determination. 'I pointed out to him', he noted in his diary, 'that it 
would logically lead to the self-determination of Gibraltar to Spain, 
Malta to the Maltese, Cyprus to the Greeks, Egypt to the Egyptians, 
Aden to the Arabs or Somalis, India to chaos, Hong Kong to the 
Chinese, South Africa to the Kaffirs, West Indies to the blacks, etc. And 
where would the British Empire be?' 126 

As a matter of fact the principle was already being conceded even at 
the time Hankey wrote. During the desperate days of the war, the Allies 
signed post-dated cheques not only to Arabs and Jews and Romanians 
and Italians and Japanese and Slavs but to their own subject-peoples. 
As the casualties mounted, colonial manpower increasingly filled the 
gaps. It was the French Moroccan battalions which saved Rheims 
Cathedral. The French called it gleefully la force noire, and so it was but 
in more senses than one. The British raised during the war 1,440,437 
soldiers in India; 877,068 were combatants; and 621,224 officers and 
men served overseas. 127 It was felt that in some way India should be 
rewarded; and the cheapest way to do it was in the coinage of political 

The capstone on British rule in India had been placed there when 
Disraeli made Victoria Empress in 1876. The chain of command was 
autocratic: it went from the district officer to provincial commissioner 
to governor to governor-general to viceroy. This principle had been 
maintained in the pre-war Morley— Minto reforms, since Lord Morley, 
though a liberal progressive, did not believe democracy would work in 
India. But his Under-Secretary, Edwin Montagu, thought differently. 
Montagu was another Jew with oriental longings, though rather 
different ones: the longing to be loved. He suffered from that corrosive 
vice of the civilized during the twentieth century, which we shall meet in 
many forms: guilt. His grandfather had been a goldsmith, his father 
made millions as a foreign exchange banker, and so earned himself the 
luxury of philanthropy. Montagu inherited all this and the feeling that 
he owed something to society. He was a highly emotional man; people 
used the term 'girlish' about his approach to public affairs. Turning 
down the Ireland secretaryship in 1 9 1 6, he wrote, 'I shrink with horror 
at being responsible for punishment.' When he died a friend wrote to 
The Times: 'He never tired of being sorry for people.' 128 

Lloyd George must have had other things on his mind when he gave 
Montagu India in June 1917. Montagu's aim was to launch India 
irretrievably on the way to independence. He at once set about drafting 


a statement of Britain's post-war intentions. It came before the 
cabinet on 14 August, at one of the darkest periods of the war. On 
the agenda was the rapid disintegration of the entire Russian front, 
as well as the first really big German air raids on Britain: and the 
minds of the despairing men round the table were hag-ridden by the 
fearful losses in the Passchendaele offensive, then ending its second 
bloody and futile week. Elgar was writing the final bars of his Cello 
Concerto, his last major work, which conveys better than any words 
the unappeasable sadness of those days. Montagu slipped through 
his statement of policy which included one irrevocable phrase: 'the 
gradual development of free institutions in India with a view to 
ultimate self-government'. 129 But Lord Curzon pricked up his ears. 
He was the archetypal imperialist of the silver age, a former viceroy, 
on record as saying: 'As long as we rule India we are the greatest 
power in the world. If we lose it we shall drop straight away to a 
third-rate power.' 130 He pointed out that, to the men around that 
table, the phrase 'ultimate self-government' might mean 500 years, 
but to excitable Indians it meant a single generation. Confident in the 
magic of his diplomatic penmanship, he insisted on changing the 
statement to 'the gradual development of self-governing institutions 
with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government 
in India as an integral part of the British Empire'. In fact changing the 
phrase made no difference: Montagu meant self-government and 
that was how it was understood in India. 

Indeed, that November and December, while Lenin was taking 
over Russia, Montagu went out to India to consult 'Indian opinion'. 
In his subsequent report he wrote: 'If we speak of "Indian Opinion" 
we should be understood as generally referring to the majority of 
those who have held or are capable of holding an opinion on the 
matter with which we are dealing.' 131 In other words, he was only 
interested in the 'political nation', those like Jinnah, Gandhi and Mrs 
Besant whom he called 'the real giants of the Indian political world' 
and who shared his political mode of discourse. Just as Lenin made 
no effort to consult the Russian peasants in whose name he was now 
turning a vast nation upside down, so Montagu ignored the 400 
million ordinary Indians, the 'real nation', except as the subjects of 
his philanthropic experiment. His action, he wrote, in 'deliberately 
disturbing' what he called the 'placid, pathetic contentment of the 
masses' would be 'working for [India's] highest good'. 132 He got his 
Report through cabinet on 24 May and 7 June 1918, when the 
attention of ministers was focused on the frantic efforts to arrest the 
German breakthrough in France, almost to the exclusion of anything 
else. So it was published (1918), enacted (1919) and implemented 
(1921). By creating provincial legislatures, bodies of course elected 


by and composed of the 'political nation', Montagu drove a runaway 
coach through the old autocratic chain of command. Thereafter 
there seemed no turning back. 

However, it must not be supposed that already, in 1919, the 
progressive disintegration of the British Empire was inevitable, 
indeed foreseeable. There are no inevitabilities in history. 133 That, 
indeed, will be one of the central themes of this volume. In 1919 the 
British Empire, to most people, appeared to be not only the most 
extensive but the most solid on earth. Britain was a superpower by 
any standards. She had by far the largest navy, which included 
sixty-one battleships, more than the American and French navies put 
together, more than twice the Japanese plus the Italians (the German 
navy was now at the bottom of Scapa Flow); plus 120 cruisers and 
466 destroyers. 134 She also had the world's largest air force and, 
surprisingly in view of her history, the world's third largest army. 

In theory at least the British Empire had gained immeasurably by 
the war. Nor was this accidental. In December 1916, the destruction 
of the frail Asquith government and the formation of the Lloyd 
George coalition brought in the 'Balliol Imperialists': Lord Curzon 
and especially Lord Milner and the members of the 'Kindergarten' he 
had formed in South Africa. The Imperial War Cabinet promptly set 
up a group under Curzon, with Leo Amery (of the Kindergarten) as 
secretary, called the 'Territorial Desiderata' committee, whose func- 
tion was to plan the share of the spoils going not only to Britain but 
to other units in the empire. At the very time when Montagu was 
setting about getting rid of India, this group proved very forceful 
indeed, and secured most of its objects. General Smuts of South 
Africa earmarked South-West Africa for his country, William 
Massey of New Zealand a huge chunk of the Pacific for the 
antipodean dominions. Britain received a number of important 
prizes, including Tanganyika, Palestine and, most important, Jordan 
and Iraq (including the Kirkuk-Mosul oilfields), which made her the 
paramount power throughout the Arab Middle East. It is true that, 
at Wilson's insistence, these gains were not colonies but League of 
Nations mandates. For the time being, however, this appeared to 
make little difference in practice. 

Britain's spoils, which carried the Empire to its greatest extent - 
more than a quarter of the surface of the earth - were also thought to 
consolidate it economically and strategically. Smuts, the most 
imaginative of the silver age imperialists, played a central part in the 
creation of both the modern British Commonwealth and the League. 
He saw the latter, as he saw the Commonwealth, not as an engine of 
self-determination but as a means whereby the white race could 
continue their civilizing mission throughout the world. To him the 


acquisition of South- West Africa and Tanganyika was not arbitrary, 
but steps in a process, to be finished off by the purchase or 
absorption of Portuguese Mozambique, which would eventually 
produce what he termed the British African Dominion. This huge 
territorial conglomerate, stretching from Windhoek right up to 
Nairobi, and nicely rounded off for strategic purposes, would 
encompass virtually all Africa's mineral wealth outside the Congo, 
and about three-quarters of its best agricultural land, including all 
the areas suitable for white settlement. This creation of a great 
dominion running up the east coast of Africa was itself part of a 
wider geopolitical plan, of which the establishment of a British 
paramountcy in the Middle East was the keystone, designed to turn 
the entire Indian Ocean into a 'British Lake'. Its necklace of mutually 
supporting naval and air bases, from Suez to Perth, from 
Simonstown to Singapore, from Mombasa to Aden to Bahrein to 
Trincomalee to Rangoon, with secure access to the limitless oil 
supplies of the Persian Gulf, and the inexhaustible manpower of 
India, would at long last solve those problems of security which had 
exercised the minds of Chatham and his son, Castlereagh and 
Canning, Palmerston and Salisbury. That was the great and perm- 
anent prize which the war had brought Britain and her empire. It 
all looked tremendously worth while on the map. 

But was there any longer the will in Britain to keep this elaborate 
structure functioning, with the efficiency and ruthlessness and above 
all the conviction it required to hold together? Who was more 
characteristic of the age, Smuts and Milner - or Montagu? It has 
been well observed, 'Once the British Empire became world-wide, 
the sun never set upon its problems.' 135 When troubles came, not in 
single spies but in battalions, would they be met with fortitude? If 
1919 marked the point at which the new Thirty Years' War in 
Europe switched from Great Power conflict to regional violence, 
further east it witnessed the beginning of what some historians are 
now calling 'the general crisis of Asia', a period of fundamental 
upheaval of the kind Europe had experienced in the first half of the 
seventeenth century. 

In February 1919, while the statesmen were getting down to the 
red meat of frontier-fixing in Paris, Montagu's policy of 'deliberately 
disturbing' the 'pathetic contentment' of the Indian masses began to 
produce its dubious fruits, when Mahatma Gandhi's first satyagraha 
(passive resistance) campaign led to some very active disturbances. 
On 10 March there was an anti-British rising in Egypt. On 9 April 
the first serious rioting broke out in the Punjab. On 3 May there was 
war between British India and Afghanistan insurgents. The next day 
students in Peking staged demonstrations against Japan and her 


western allies, who had just awarded her Chinese Shantung. Later 
that month, Kemal Ataturk in Anatolia, and Reza Pahlevi in Persia, 
showed the strength of feeling against the West across a huge tract of 
the Middle East. In July there was an anti-British rising in Iraq. These 
events were not directly connected but they all testified to spreading 
nationalism, all involved British interests and all tested Britain's 
power and will to protect them. With the country disarming as fast 
as it possibly could, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Henry 
Wilson, complained in his diary: ' ... in no single theatre are we 
strong enough, not in Ireland, nor England, nor on the Rhine, nor in 
Constantinople, nor Batoum, nor Egypt, nor Palestine, nor Mesopo- 
tamia, nor Persia, nor India.' 136 

India: there was the rub. In 1919 there were only 77,000 British 
troops in the entire subcontinent, and Lloyd George thought even 
that number 'appalling': he needed more men at home to hold down 
the coalfields. 137 In India, officers had always been taught to think 
fast and act quickly with the tiny forces at their disposal. Any 
hesitation in the face of a mob would lead to mass slaughter. They 
would always be backed up even if they made mistakes. 138 As was 
foreseeable, Montagu's reforms and Gandhi's campaign tended to 
incite everyone, not just the 'political nation', to demand their rights. 
There were a great many people in India and very few rights to go 
round. Muslim, Hindu and Sikh fundamentalists joined in the 
agitation. One result was an episode at Amritsar on 9-10 April 
1919. There were, in Amritsar in the Punjab, one hundred unarmed 
constables and seventy-five armed reserves. That should have been 
enough to keep order. But the police were handled in pusillanimous 
fashion; some were not used at all - a sign of the times. As a result 
the mob got out of hand. Two banks were attacked, their managers 
and an assistant beaten to death, a British electrician and a railway 
guard murdered, and a woman missionary teacher left for dead. 
General Dyer, commanding the nearest army brigade, was ordered 
in, and three days later he opened fire on a mob in a confined space 
called the Jalianwala Bagh. He had earlier that day toured the whole 
town with beat of drum to warn that any mob would be fired upon. 
The same month thirty-six other orders to fire were given in the 
province. In Dyer's case the firing lasted ten minutes because the 
order to cease fire could not be heard in the noise. That was not so 
unusual either, then or now. On 20 September 1981, again in 
Amritsar, government of India police opened fire for twenty minutes 
on a gang of sword-wielding Sikhs. 138 The mistake made by Dyer, 
who was used to frontier fighting, was to let his fifty men load their 
rifles and issue them with spare magazines. As a result 1,650 rounds 
were fired and 379 people were killed. Dyer compounded his error 


by ordering the flogging of six men and by an instruction that all 
natives passing the spot where the missionary had been assaulted 
were to crawl on the ground. 140 

Some people praised Dyer: the Sikhs, for whom Amritsar is the 
national shrine and who feared it would be sacked by the mob, made 
him an honorary Sikh. The British Indian authorities returned him 
to frontier duties (the Third Afghan war broke out the next month) 
and privately swore never to let him near a mob again. That was the 
traditional way of dealing with such a case. The Indian nationalists 
raised an uproar and Montagu ordered an inquiry under a British 
judge, Lord Hunter. That was the first mistake. When Dyer was 
questioned by the inquiry in Lahore he was shouted down by 
continuous Hindustani abuse which the judge failed to control and 
could not understand, and Dyer said some foolish things. Hunter 
censured his conduct and as a result Dyer was sacked from the army. 
This was the second mistake. It infuriated the British community and 
the army, who felt that Dyer had not been given a proper trial with 
legal representation. It left the nationalists unappeased because the 
punishment was too slight for what they regarded as a massacre. The 
right-wing Morning Post collected a public subscription of £26,000 
for Dyer. The nationalists responded with a subscription of their 
own, which bought the Bagh and turned it into a public shrine of 

Sir Edward Carson, the leader of the Ulster die-hards, organized a 
motion of censure on Montagu, who defended the punishment of 
Dyer in a hysterical speech: 'Are you going to keep hold of India by 
terrorism, racial humiliation and subordination and frightfulness, or 
are you going to rest it upon the goodwill, and the growing goodwill, 
of the people of your Indian Empire?' Lloyd George's secretary 
reported to him that, under noisy interruptions, Montagu 'became 
more racial and Yiddish in screaming tone and gesture' and many 
Tories 'could have assaulted him physically they were so angry'. 
Winston Churchill saved the government from certain defeat by a 
brilliant speech, which he later came to regret bitterly. He said that 
Dyer's use of force was 'an episode which appears to me to be 
without precedent or parallel in the modern history of the British 
Empire ... a monstrous event'. 'Frightfulness', he said, using a 
current code-word meaning German atrocities, 'is not a remedy 
known to the British pharmacopoeia. . . . We have to make it clear, 
some way or other, that this is not the British way of doing business.' 
He made skilful use of Macaulay's phrase, 'the most frightful of all 
spectacles, the strength of civilization without its mercy'. 141 But if all 
this were true, why was not Dyer on trial for his life? That was what 
the Indian 'political nation' thought. The episode, which might have 


been quickly forgotten, was thus turned, by the publicity which the 
British government afforded it, into a great watershed in Anglo- 
Indian relations. 

Jawaharlal Nehru, an Old Harrovian of thirty, then working for 
Gandhi as an agitator among the peasants, travelled in the next 
sleeping compartment to Dyer while the General was on his way to 
give evidence to the Hunter inquiry. He overheard Dyer say to other 
British officers that he had felt like reducing Amritsar 'to a heap of 
ashes' but 'took pity on it'. In the morning Dyer 'descended at Delhi 
Station in pyjamas with bright pink stripes and a dressing gown'. 
What he could never forget, wrote Nehru, was the response of the 
British: 'This cold-blooded approval of that deed shocked me 
greatly. It seemed absolutely immoral, indecent; to use public-school 
language, it was the height of bad form. I realized then . . . how 
brutal and immoral imperialism was and how it had eaten into the 
souls of the British upper classes.' 142 As for the inquiry and the 
Commons debate, the British liberals might have saved their breath. 
All they succeeded in doing was to help turn Dyer and Amritsar into 
indelible hate-symbols around which nationalists could rally. 

The episode was a watershed in Indian internal security too. 'From 
then on', one historian of British India has put it, 'it was not the first 
object of the government to keep order.' 143 Security officials, both 
British and Indian, now hesitated to deal promptly with riotous 
assemblies. In 1921 when the Muslim 'Moplahs' rioted against the 
Hindus in the Madras area, the provincial government, with Amrit- 
sar in mind, delayed bringing in martial law. As a result, over 500 
people were murdered and it took a year and huge forces of troops to 
restore order, by which time 80,000 people had been arrested and 
placed in special cages, 6,000 sentenced to transportation, 400 to 
life-imprisonment and 175 executed. Attacks on security forces 
became frequent and audacious. On 4 February 1922 in the United 
Provinces, a mob surrounded the police station and, those inside not 
daring to open fire, all twenty-two of them were torn to pieces or 
burned alive. From that point onwards, large-scale racial, sectarian 
and anti-government violence became a permanent feature of Indian 
life. 144 There too, in the largest and most docile colony in human 
history, the mould of the nineteenth century had been broken. 

The disturbances in Europe and the world which followed the 
seismic shock of the Great War and its unsatisfactory peace were, in 
one sense, only to be expected. The old order had gone. Plainly it 
could not be fully restored, perhaps not restored at all. A new order 
would eventually take its place. But would this be an 'order' in the 
sense the pre-1914 world had understood the term? There were, as 
we have seen, disquieting currents of thought which suggested the 


image of a world adrift, having left its moorings in traditional law 
and morality. There was too a new hesitancy on the part of 
established and legitimate authority to get the global vessel back 
under control by the accustomed means, or any means. It constituted 
an invitation, unwilled and unissued but nonetheless implicit, to 
others to take over. Of the great trio of German imaginative scholars 
who offered explanations of human behaviour in the nineteenth 
century, and whose corpus of thought the post-1918 world inherited, 
only two have so far been mentioned. Marx described a world in 
which the central dynamic was economic interest. To Freud, the 
principal thrust was sexual. Both assumed that religion, the old 
impulse which moved men and masses, was a fantasy and always had 
been. Friedrich Nietzsche, the third of the trio, was also an atheist. 
But he saw God not as an invention but as a casualty, and his demise 
as in some important sense an historical event, which would have 
dramatic consequences. He wrote in 1886: The greatest event of 
recent times - that "God is Dead", that the belief in the Christian 
God is no longer tenable - is beginning to cast its first shadows over 
Europe.' 145 Among the advanced races, the decline and ultimately 
the collapse of the religious impulse would leave a huge vacuum. The 
history of modern times is in great part the history of how that 
vacuum had been filled. Nietzsche rightly perceived that the most 
likely candidate would be what he called the 'Will to Power', which 
offered a far more comprehensive and in the end more plausible 
explanation of human behaviour than either Marx or Freud. In place 
of religious belief, there would be secular ideology. Those who had 
once filled the ranks of the totalitarian clergy would become 
totalitarian politicians. And, above all, the Will to Power would 
produce a new kind of messiah, uninhibited by any religious 
sanctions whatever, and with an unappeasable appetite for controll- 
ing mankind. The end of the old order, with an unguided world 
adrift in a relativistic universe, was a summons to such gangster- 
statesmen to emerge. They were not slow to make their appearance. 


The First Despotic Utopias 

Lenin left Zurich to return to Russia on 8 April 1917. Some of his 
comrades in exile accompanied him to the station, arguing. He was 
to travel back through Germany at the invitation of General Luden- 
dorff, who guaranteed him a safe passage provided he undertook not 
to talk to any German trade unionists on the way. War breeds 
revolutions. And breeding revolutions is a very old form of warfare. 
The Germans called it Revolutionierungspolitik. 1 If the Allies could 
incite the Poles, the Czechs, the Croats, the Arabs and the Jews to rise 
against the Central Powers and their partners, then the Germans, in 
turn, could and did incite the Irish and the Russians. If the Germans 
used Lenin, as Churchill later put it, 'like a typhoid bacillus', they 
attached no particular importance to him, lumping him in with thirty 
other exiles and malcontents. The arguing comrades thought Lenin 
would compromise himself by accepting German aid and tried to 
dissuade him from going. He brushed them aside without deigning to 
speak and climbed on the train. He was a fierce little man of 
forty-six, almost bald but (according to the son of his Zurich 
landlady) 'with a neck like a bull'. Entering his carriage he im- 
mediately spotted a comrade he regarded as suspect: 'Suddenly we 
saw Lenin seize him by the collar and . . . pitch him out onto the 
platform.' 2 

At Stockholm, comrade Karl Radek bought him a pair of shoes, 
but he refused other clothes, remarking sourly, 'I am not going to 
Russia to open a tailor's shop.' Arriving at Beloostrov on Russian 
soil, in the early hours of 16 April, he was met by his sister Maria and 
by Kamenev and Stalin, who had been in charge of the Bolshevik 
paper Pravda. He ignored his sister completely, and Stalin whom he 
had not met, and offered no greeting to his old comrade Kamenev 
whom he had not seen for five years. Instead he shouted at him, 
'What's this you have been writing in Pravda} We saw some of your 
articles and roundly abused you.' Late that night he arrived at the 



Finland Station in Petrograd. He was given a bunch of roses and 
taken to the Tsar's waiting-room. There he launched into the first of 
a series of speeches, one of them delivered, still clutching the roses, 
from the top of an armoured car. The last took two hours and 'filled 
his audience with turmoil and terror'. Dawn was breaking as he 
finished. He retired to bed, said his wife, Krupskaya, hardly speaking 
a word. 3 

The grim lack of humanity with which Lenin returned to Russia to 
do his revolutionary work was characteristic of this single-minded 
man. Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov was born in 1870 at Simbirsk on the 
Volga, the son of an inspector of primary schools. When he was 
sixteen, his elder brother Alexander was hanged for conspiring to 
blow up the Tsar with a bomb which he had made himself. His 
supposed reaction to his brother's death, 'We shall never get there by 
that road', is probably apocryphal, since he did not in fact become a 
Marxist (which meant disavowing terrorism) until later, after he had 
been forced out of Kazan University for 'revolutionary activities'. His 
sister Anna said he was 'hardened' by his brother's execution. 4 
Certainly politics now obsessed him, then and for ever, and his 
approach was always cerebral rather than emotional. His 
contemporaries refer to his 'unsociability', his 'excessive reserve' and 
his 'distant manner'. Aged twenty-two, he dissuaded friends from 
collecting money for the victims of a famine, on the grounds that 
hunger 'performs a progressive function' and would 'cause the 
peasants to reflect on the fundamental facts of capitalist society'. 5 
Within a year or two he had acquired a double-bottomed suitcase for 
importing seditious books, and its discovery earned him a three-year 
sentence in Siberia. The few days before his exile he spent in the 
Moscow Library, scrabbling for facts and statistics with which to 
hammer home his theories. In Siberia he married Krupskaya, another 

Men who carry through political revolutions seem to be of two 
main types, the clerical and the romantic. Lenin (he adopted the 
pen-name in 1901) was from the first category. Both his parents were 
Christians. Religion was important to him, in the sense that he hated 
it. Unlike Marx, who despised it and treated it as marginal, Lenin 
saw it as a powerful and ubiquitous enemy. He made clear in many 
writings (his letter to Gorky of 13 January 1913 is a striking 
example) that he had an intense personal dislike for anything 
religious. 'There can be nothing more abominable', he wrote, 'than 
religion.' From the start, the state he created set up and maintains to 
this day an enormous academic propaganda machine against reli- 
gion. 6 He was not just anti-clerical like Stalin, who disliked priests 
because they were corrupt. On the contrary, Lenin had no real 


feelings about corrupt priests, because they were easily beaten. The 
men he really feared and hated, and later persecuted, were the saints. 
The purer the religion, the more dangerous. A devoted cleric, he 
argued, is far more influential than an egotistical and immoral one. 
The clergy most in need of suppression were not those committed to 
the defence of exploitation but those who expressed their solidarity 
with the proletariat and the peasants. It was as though he recognized 
in the true man of God the same zeal and spirit which animated 
himself, and wished to expropriate it and enlist it in his own cause. 7 
No man personifies better the replacement of the religious impulse by 
the will to power. In an earlier age he would surely have been a 
religious leader. With his extraordinary passion for force, he might 
have figured in Mohammed's legions. He was even closer perhaps to 
Jean Calvin, with his belief in organizational structure, his ability to 
create one and then dominate it utterly, his puritanism, his passionate 
self-righteousness, and above all his intolerance. 

Krupskaya testifies to his asceticism, and tells us how he gave up all 
the things he cared for, skating, reading Latin, chess, even music, to 
concentrate solely on his political work. 8 A comrade remarked, 'He is 
the only one of us who lives revolution twenty-four hours a day.' He 
told Gorky he refused to listen to music often because 'it makes you 
want to say stupid, nice things and stroke the heads of people who 
could create such beauty while living in this vile hell. And now you 
mustn't stroke anyone's head — you might get your hand bitten off.' 9 
We have to assume that what drove Lenin on to do what he did was a 
burning humanitarianism, akin to the love of the saints for God, for he 
had none of the customary blemishes of the politically ambitious: no 
vanity, no self-consciousness, no obvious relish for the exercise of 
authority. But his humanitarianism was a very abstract passion. It 
embraced humanity in general but he seems to have had little love for, 
or even interest in, humanity in particular. He saw the people with 
whom he dealt, his comrades, not as individuals but as receptacles for 
his ideas. On that basis, and on no other, they were judged. So he had 
no hierarchy of friendships; no friendships in fact, merely ideological 
alliances. He judged men not by their moral qualities but by their 
views, or rather the degree to which they accepted his. He bore no 
grudges. A man like Trotsky, whom he fought bitterly in the years 
before the Great War, and with whom he exchanged the vilest insults, 
was welcomed back with bland cordiality once he accepted Lenin's 
viewpoint. Equally, no colleague, however close, could bank the 
smallest capital in Lenin's heart. 

Lenin was the first of a new species: the professional organizer of 
totalitarian politics. It never seems to have occurred to him, from early 
adolescence onwards, that any other kind of human activity was 


worth doing. Like an anchorite, he turned his back on the ordinary 
world. He rejected with scorn his mother's suggestion that he should 
go into farming. For a few weeks he functioned as a lawyer and hated 
it. After that he never had any other kind of job or occupation, for 
his journalism was purely a function of his political life. And his 
politics were hieratic, not demotic. Lenin surrounded himself with 
official publications, and works of history and economics. He made 
no effort to inform himself directly of the views and conditions of the 
masses. The notion of canvassing an electorate on their doorsteps 
was anathema to him: 'unscientific'. He never visited a factory or set 
foot on a farm. He had no interest in the way in which wealth was 
created. He was never to be seen in the working-class quarters of any 
town in which he resided. His entire life was spent among the 
members of his own sub-class, the bourgeois intelligentsia, which he 
saw as a uniquely privileged priesthood, endowed with a special 
gnosis and chosen by History for a decisive role. Socialism, he wrote 
quoting Karl Kautsky, was the product of 'profound scientific 
knowledge .... The vehicle of [this] science is not the proletariat but 
the bourgeois intelligentsia: contemporary socialism was born in the 
heads of individual members of this class.' 10 

Individual members — or one individual member? In practice it was 
the latter. In the twenty years before his Revolution, Lenin created 
his own faction within the Social Democrats, the Bolsheviks, split it 
off from the Mensheviks, or minority, and then made himself 
absolute master of it. This process, the will to power in action, is well 
documented by his more critical comrades. Plekhanov, the real 
creator of Russian Marxism, through whose Iskra organization 
Lenin first came to prominence, accused him of 'fostering a sectarian 
spirit of exclusiveness'. He was 'confusing the dictatorship of the 
proletariat with dictatorship over the proletariat' and seeking to 
create 'Bonapartism if not absolute monarchy in the old pre 1 
revolutionary style'. 11 Vera Zasulich said that, soon after Lenin 
joined Iskra, it changed from a friendly family into a personal 
dictatorship. Lenin's idea of the party, she wrote, was Louis xiv's 
idea of the state - moil 12 The same year, 1904, Trotsky called Lenin 
a Robespierre and a terrorist dictator seeking to turn the party 
leadership into a committee of public safety. Lenin's methods, he 
wrote in his pamphlet Our Political Tasks, were 'a dull caricature of 
the tragic intransigence of Jacobinism ... the party is replaced by the 
organization of the party, the organization by the central committee 
and finally the central committee by the dictator'. 13 Six years later, in 
1910, Madame Krzhizhanovskaya wrote: 'He is one man against the 
whole party. He is ruining the party.' 14 In 1914 Charles Rappaport, 
while praising Lenin as 'an incomparable organizer', added: 'But he 


regards only himself as a socialist .... War is declared on anyone who 
differs with him. Instead of combating his opponents in the Social 
Democratic Party by socialist methods, i.e. by argument, Lenin uses 
only surgical methods, those of "blood-letting". No party could exist 
under the regime of this Social Democratic Tsar, who regards himself 
as a super-Marxist, but who is, in reality, nothing but an adventurer 
of the highest order.' His verdict: 'Lenin's victory would be the 
greatest menace to the Russian Revolution ... he will choke it.' 15 
Two years later, on the eve of the Revolution, Viacheslav Menz- 
hinsky described him as 'a political Jesuit . . . this illegitimate child of 
Russian absolutism . . . the natural successor to the Russian 
throne'. 16 

The impressive unanimity of this critical analysis of Lenin, coming 
over a period of twenty years from men and women in close 
agreement with his aims, testifies to an awesome consistency in 
Lenin's character. He brushed aside the attacks, which never seem to 
have caused him to pause or reconsider for one second. There was no 
chink in his self-armour. Authoritarian? Of course: 'Classes are led 
by parties and parties are led by individuals who are called 
leaders .... This is the ABC. The will of a class is sometimes fulfilled 
by a dictator.' 17 What mattered was that the anointed individual, the 
man selected by History to possess the gnosis at the appointed time, 
should understand and so be able to interpret the sacred texts. Lenin 
always insisted that Marxism was identical with objective truth. 
'From the philosophy of Marxism', he wrote, 'cast as one piece of 
steel, it is impossible to expunge a single basic premise, a single 
essential part, without deviating from objective truth.' 18 He told 
Valentinov: 'Orthodox Marxism requires no revision of any kind 
either in the field of philosophy, in its theory of political economy, or 
its theory of historical development.' 19 Believing this, and believing 
himself the designated interpreter, rather as Calvin interpreted 
scripture in his Institutes, Lenin was bound to regard heresy with 
even greater ferocity than he showed towards the infidel. Hence the 
astonishing virulence of the abuse which he constantly hurled at the 
heads of his opponents within the party, attributing to them the 
basest possible motives and seeking to destroy them as moral beings 
even when only minor points of doctrine were at stake. The kind of 
language Lenin employed, with its metaphors of the jungle and the 
farmyard and its brutal refusal to make the smallest effort of human 
understanding, recalls the odium theologicum with poisoned Chris- 
tian disputes about the Trinity in the sixth and seventh centuries, or 
the Eucharist in the sixteenth. And of course once verbal hatred was 
screwed up to this pitch, blood was bound to flow eventually. As 
Erasmus sadly observed of the Lutherans and papists, 'The long war 


of words and writings will end in blows' — as it did, for a whole 
century. Lenin was not in the least dismayed by such a prospect. Just 
as the warring theologians felt they were dealing with issues which, 
however trivial they might seem to the uninitiated, would in fact 
determine whether or not countless millions of souls burned in Hell 
for all eternity, so Lenin knew that the great watershed of civilization 
was near, in which the future fate of mankind would be decided by 
History, with himself as its prophet. It would be worth a bit of 
blood; indeed a lot of blood. 

Yet the curious thing is that, for all his proclaimed orthodoxy, 
Lenin was very far from being an orthodox Marxist. Indeed in 
essentials he was not a Marxist at all. He often used Marx's 
methodology and he exploited the Dialectic to justify conclusions he 
had already reached by intuition. But he completely ignored the very 
core of Marx's ideology, the historical determinism of the revolution. 
Lenin was not at heart a determinist but a voluntarist: the decisive 
role was played by human will: his. Indeed, for a man who claimed a 
special 'scientific' knowledge of how the laws of History worked, he 
seems to have been invariably surprised by the actual turn of events. 
The outbreak of the 1905 abortive Revolution in Russia astounded 
him. The beginning of the 1914 war came to him like a thunderclap 
from a clear sky; so it did to others but then they did not claim a 
private line to History. He was still more shaken by the total failure 
of the international socialist movement to unite against the war. The 
fall of the Tsar amazed him. He was staggered when the Germans 
offered to get him back to Russia. When he arrived there he predicted 
he would be arrested on the spot, and instead found himself 
clutching those roses. He was again surprised, no less agreeably, by 
the success of his own Revolution. But the international uprising he 
confidently predicted did not materialize. To the end of his days, like 
the early Christians awaiting the Second Coming, he expected the 
Apocalypse any moment. What made Lenin a great actor on the 
stage of history was not his understanding of its processes but the 
quickness and energy with which he took the unexpected chances it 
offered. He was, in short, what he accused all his opponents of being: 
an opportunist. 

He was also a revolutionary to his fingertips, and of a very 
old-fashioned sort. He believed that revolutions were made not by 
inexorable historical forces (they had to be there too, of course) but 
by small groups of highly disciplined men responding to the will of a 
decisive leader. In this respect he had much more in common with 
the French Jacobin revolutionary tradition of 1789-95, and even 
with its more recent exponents, such as Georges Sorel, than with the 
instinctive Marxists, most of whom were German and who saw the 


triumph of the proletariat almost as a Darwinian process of evolu- 
tion. Lenin cut through that kind of sogginess like a knife: 'Theory, 
my friend, is grey, but green is the everlasting tree of life.' Again: 
'Practice is a hundred time more important than theory.' 20 If the 
whole of Marx appears in his book, wrote Trotsky, 'the whole of 
Lenin on the other hand appears in revolutionary action. His 
scientific works are only a preparation for revolutionary activity'. 21 
Lenin was an activist, indeed a hyper-activist, and it was this which 
made him such a violent figure. He was not a syndicalist like Sorel. 
But the two men shared the same appetite for violent solutions, as 
Sorel later acknowledged when he defined revolutionary violence as 
'an intellectual doctrine, the will of powerful minds which know 
where they are going, the implacable resolve to attain the final goals 
of Marxism by means of syndicalism. Lenin has furnished us with a 
striking example of that psychological violence.' 22 Lenin was ob- 
sessed by force, almost to the point of lip-smacking at the scent of it. 
'Revolutions are the feast-days of the oppressed classes.' 'An op- 
pressed class which does not strive to gain a knowledge of weapons, 
to be drilled in the use of weapons, to possess weapons, an oppressed 
class of this kind deserves only to be oppressed, maltreated and 
regarded as slaves.' His writings abound in military metaphors: 
states of siege, iron rings, sheets of steel, marching, camps, barri- 
cades, forts, offensives, mobile units, guerrilla warfare, firing squads. 
They are dominated by violently activist verbs: flame, leap, ignite, 
goad, shoot, shake, seize, attack, blaze, repel, weld, compel, purge, 

The truth is, Lenin was too impatient to be an orthodox Marxist. 
He feared the predicament foreseen by Engels when he had written, 
'The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be 
compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the moment 
is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents . . . 
he is compelled to represent not his party or his class, but the class 
for whom conditions are ripe for domination.' 23 Russia was a 
semi-industrialized country, where the bourgeoisie was weak and the 
proletariat small, and the objective conditions for the revolution not 
nearly ripe. It was this dilemma which led Lenin into heresy. If 
'proletarian consciousness' had not yet been created, was it not the 
task of Marxist intellectuals like himself to speed up the process? In 
1902, in What Is To Be Done?, he first used the term 'vanguard 
fighters' to describe the new role of a small revolutionary elite. 24 He 
drew an entirely novel distinction between a revolution created by a 
mature 'organization of workers', in advanced capitalist countries 
like Germany and Britain, and 'an organization of revolutionaries', 
suitable for Russian conditions. The first was occupational, broad, 


public: in short a mass proletarian party. The second was quite 
different: 'an organization of revolutionaries must contain primarily 
and chiefly people whose occupation is revolutionary activity .... 
This organization must necessarily be not very broad and as secret as 
possible.' As such it had to forgo the 'democratic principle' which 
required 'full publicity' and 'election to all posts'. Working within 
the framework of an autocracy like Russia, that was impossible: 'The 
one serious organizational principle for workers in our movement 
must be strictest secrecy, restricted choice of members, and training 
of professional revolutionaries. Once these qualities are present 
something more than democracy is guaranteed: complete comradely 
confidence among revolutionaries.' But in the same passage he points 
out grimly that revolutionaries know 'by experience that in order to 
rid itself of an unworthy member an organization of genuine 
revolutionaries recoils from nothing'. 25 If comrades must, when 
needs be, murder each other — a point Dostoevsky had already made 
in The Devils — was not this 'comradely confidence' a fantasy? Was it 
not, indeed, belied by what happened to the organization the 
moment Lenin joined it, and still more when he took it over? 26 

Rosa Luxemburg, the most gifted as well as one of the more 
orthodox of the German Marxists, recognized Lenin's heresy for 
what it was: so serious as to destroy the whole purpose and idealism 
of Marxism. She attributed it to Lenin's faults of character, both 
personal and national: 'The "ego", crushed and pulverized by 
Russian absolutism,' she wrote, 'reappeared in the form of the "ego" 
of the Russian revolutionary' which 'stands on its head and pro- 
claims itself anew the mighty consummator of history.' Lenin, she 
argued, was in effect demanding absolute powers for the party 
leadership, and this would 'intensify most dangerously the conser- 
vatism which naturally belongs to every such body'. Once granted, 
such powers would never be relinquished. 27 When Lenin insisted 
that 'consciousness' had to be brought to the proletariat from 
without, by 'vanguard elements', and the revolution pushed forward 
before it was ripe by 'vanguard fighters', he was in fact contradicting 
the whole 'scientific' basis of Marxist theory. She denounced the idea 
as elitist and non-Marxist, and said it would lead inevitably to 
'military ultracentralism'. 28 

Leninism was not only a heresy; it was exactly the same heresy 
which created fascism. Italy was also a semi-industrialized country, 
where Marxists were looking for ways to speed up the coming of 
revolution. Italian Marxists, too, were attracted by Sorel's notions of 
revolutionary violence. In 1903, the year after Lenin first used the 
term 'vanguard fighters', Roberto Michaels, in his introduction to 
the Italian translation of Sorel's Saggi di critica del Marxismo, urged 


the creation of a 'revolutionary elite' to push forward the proletarian 
socialist millennium. Such an elite, echoed his colleague Angelo 
Olivetti, was essential for an under-industrialized country. 29 These 
ideas were taken up by a third Italian Marxist, Benito Mussolini, 
who was thirteen years younger than Lenin and just entering politics 
at this time. His father, a farrier and small property owner, was a 
socialist-anarchist; his mother a teacher. They filled him with a wide 
range of political philosophy, which included Nietzsche — he knew 
all about 'the will to power' - and he was much more broadly read 
than Lenin. But his political formation was fundamentally Marxist. 
Marx, he wrote, was 'the father and teacher'; he was 'the magni- 
ficent philosopher of working-class violence'. 30 But, like Lenin, he 
advocated the formation of 'vanguard minorities' which could 
'engage the sentiment, faith and will of irresolute masses'. These 
vanguards had to be composed of specially trained, dedicated people, 
elites. Such revolutionary leadership should concern itself with the 
psychology of classes and the techniques of mass-mobilization, and, 
through the use of myth and symbolic invocation, raise the con- 
sciousness of the proletariat. 31 Like Lenin, again, he thought violence 
would be necessary: 'Instead of deluding the proletariat as to the 
possibility of eradicating all causes of bloodbaths, we wish to 
prepare it and accustom it to war for the day of the "greatest 
bloodbath of all", when the two hostile classes will clash in the 
supreme trial.' 32 Again, there is the endless repetition of activist 
verbs, the militaristic imagery. 

In the years before 1914, from his impotent exile in Switzerland, 
Lenin watched the progress of Mussolini with approval and some 
envy. Mussolini turned the province of Forli into an island of 
socialism — the first of many in Italy — by supporting the braccianti 
day-labourers against the landowners. 33 He became one of the most 
effective and widely read socialist journalists in Europe. In 1912, 
aged twenty-nine, and still young-looking, thin, stern, with large, 
dark, luminous eyes, he took over the Italian Socialist Party at the 
Congress of Reggio Emilia, by insisting that socialism must be 
Marxist, thoroughgoing, internationalist, uncompromising. Lenin, 
reporting the congress for Pravda (15 July 1912), rejoiced: 'The 
party of the Italian socialist proletariat has taken the right path.' He 
agreed when Mussolini prevented the socialists from participating in 
the 'bourgeois reformist' Giolitti government, and so foreshadowed 
the emergence of the Italian Communist Party. 34 He strongly en- 
dorsed Mussolini's prophecy on the eve of war: 'With the unleashing 
of a mighty clash of peoples, the bourgeoisie is playing its last card 
and calls forth on the world scene that which Karl Marx called the 
sixth great power: the socialist revolution.' 35 


As Marxist heretics and violent revolutionary activists, Lenin and 
Mussolini had six salient features in common. Both were totally 
opposed to bourgeois parliaments and any type of 'reformism'. Both 
saw the party as a highly centralized, strictly hierarchical and 
ferociously disciplined agency for furthering socialist objectives. 
Both wanted a leadership of professional revolutionaries. Neither 
had any confidence in the capacity of the proletariat to organize 
itself. Both thought revolutionary consciousness could be brought to 
the masses from without by a revolutionary, self-appointed elite. 
Finally, both believed that, in the coming struggle between the 
classes, organized violence would be the final arbiter. 36 

The Great War saw the bifurcation of Leninism and Mussolini's 
proto-fascism. It was a question not merely of intellect and situation 
but of character. Mussolini had the humanity, including the vanity 
and the longing to be loved, which Lenin so conspicuously lacked. 
He was exceptionally sensitive and responsive to mass opinion. 
When the war came and the armies marched, he sniffed the national- 
ism in the air and drew down great lungfuls of it. It was intoxicating: 
and he moved sharply in a new direction. Lenin, on the other hand, 
was impervious to such aromas. His isolation from people, his 
indifference to them, gave him a certain massive integrity and 
consistency. In one way it was a weakness: he never knew what 
people were actually going to do - that was why he was continually 
surprised by events, both before and after he came to power. But it 
was also his strength. His absolute self-confidence and masterful will 
were never, for a moment, eroded by tactical calculations as to how 
people were likely to react. Moreover, he was seeking power in a 
country where traditionally people counted for nothing; were mere 
dirt beneath the ruler's feet. 

Hence when Lenin returned to Petrograd he was totally unaffected 
by any wartime sentiment. He had said all along that the war was a 
bourgeois adventure. The defeat of the Tsar was 'the least evil'. The 
army should be undermined by propaganda, the men encouraged 'to 
turn their guns on their officers', and any disaster exploited to 
'hasten the destruction ... of the capitalist class'. There should be 
'ruthless struggle against the chauvinism and patriotism of the 
bourgeoisie of all countries without exception'. 37 Lenin was dis- 
mayed by the failure of all socialists to smash the war, and as it 
prolonged itself he lost hope of the millennium coming soon. In 
January 1917 he doubted whether 'I will live to see the decisive 
battles of the coming revolution'. 38 So when the Tsar was sent 
packing six weeks later he was surprised, as usual. To his delight, the 
new parliamentary regime opted to continue the war, while releasing 
political prisoners and thus allowing his own men to subvert it. The 


Bolsheviks would overturn the new government and seize power by 
opposing the war. Pravda resumed publication on 5 March. Kamenev 
and Stalin hurried back from Siberia to take charge of it eight days 
later. Then, to Lenin's consternation, the two idiots promptly changed 
the paper's line and committed it to supporting the war! That was 
why, the second Lenin set eyes on Kamenev on 3 April, he bawled him 
out. The Pravda line promptly changed back again. Lenin sat down 
and wrote a set of 'theses' to explain why the war had to be resisted 
and ended. Stalin later squared his yard-arm by confessing to 'a 
completely mistaken position' which 'I shared with other party 
comrades and renounced it completely . . . when I adhered to Lenin's 
theses'. 39 Most other Bolsheviks did the same. They were over- 
whelmed by Lenin's certainty. The war did not matter. It had served its 
purpose in destroying the autocracy. Now they must exploit war- 
weariness to oust the parliamentarians. He was indifferent to how 
much territory Russia lost, so long as a nucleus was preserved in which 
to install Bolshevism. Then they could await events with confidence. A 
German victory was irrelevant because their German comrades would 
soon be in power there — and in Britain and France too — and the day of 
the world socialist revolution would have dawned. 40 

In outlining this continental fantasy Lenin had, almost by chance, 
hit upon the one line of policy which could bring him to power. He had 
no real power-base in Russia. He had never sought to create one. He 
had concentrated exclusively on building up a small organization of 
intellectual and sub-intellectual desperadoes, which he could com- 
pletely dominate. It had no following at all among the peasants. Only 
one of the Bolshevik elite even had a peasant background. It had a few 
adherents among the unskilled workers. But the skilled workers, and 
virtually all who were unionized, were attached — in so far as any had 
political affiliations — to the Mensheviks. 41 That was not surprising. 
Lenin's intransigence had driven all the ablest socialists into the 
Menshevik camp. That suited him: all the easier to drill the remainder 
to follow him without argument when the moment to strike came. As 
one of them put it, 'Before Lenin arrived, all the comrades were 
wandering in the dark.' 42 The other Bolshevik with clear ideas of his 
own was Trotsky. In May tie arrived in Petrograd from America. He 
quickly realized Lenin was the only decisive man of action among 
them, and became his principal lieutenant. Thereafter these two men 
could command perhaps 20,000 followers in a nation of over 160 

The Russian Revolution of 1917, both in its 'February' and its 
'October' phases, was made by the peasants, who had grown in 
number from 56 million in 1867 to 103.2 million by 1913. 43 In 
pre-war Russia there were less than 3.5 million factory workers and 


miners, and even by the widest definition the 'proletariat' numbered 
only 15 million. Many of the 25 million inhabitants of large towns 
were part of extended peasant families, working in town but based 
on villages. This connection helped to transmit radical ideas to the 
peasants. But in essence they were there already, and always had 
been. There was a Russian tradition of peasant collectivism, based on 
the commune (obshchina) and the craftsmen's co-operative {artel). It 
had the sanction of the Orthodox Church. Private enrichment was 
against the communal interest. It was often sinful. The grasping 
peasant, the kulak ('fist'), was a bad peasant: the kulaks were not a 
class (that was a later Bolshevik invention). Most peasants har- 
boured both a respect for hierarchy and an egalitarian spirit, the 
latter liable to surface in moments of crisis when notions of freedom 
(volya) drove them to seize and confiscate. But the peasants never 
evinced the slightest desire for 'nationalization' or 'socialization': 
they did not even possess words for such concepts. What many 
wanted were independent plots, as was natural. The steps taken to 
create peasant proprietors since 1861 merely whetted their appetites, 
hence the rural agitation of 1905. From 1906, a clever Tsarist 
minister, P.A.Stolypin, accelerated the process, partly to appease the 
peasants, partly to boost food supplies to the towns, thus assisting 
the rapid industrialization of Russia. He also helped peasants to 
come out of the communes. Up to the middle of 1915 nearly 2 
million got title to individual plots, plus a further 1.7 million 
following the voluntary break-up of communes. As a result, in the 
decade before the war, Russian agricultural productivity was rising 
rapidly, the peasants becoming better educated and, for the first 
time, investing in technology. 44 

The war struck a devastating blow at this development, perhaps the 
most hopeful in all Russian history, which promised to create a 
relatively contented and prosperous peasantry, as in France and 
central Europe, while providing enough food to make industrializa- 
tion fairly painless. The war conscripted millions of peasants, while 
demanding from those who remained far more food to feed the 
swollen armies and the expanded war-factories. There were massive 
compulsory purchases. But food prices rose fast. Hence tension 
between town and countryside grew, with each blaming the other for 
their misery. The Bolsheviks were later able to exploit this hatred. As 
the war went on, the government's efforts to gouge food out of the 
villages became more brutal. So agrarian rioting increased, with 557 
outbreaks recorded up to December 1916. But food shortages 
increased too, and food prices rose fast. As a result there was an 
unprecedented rise in the number of factory strikes in 1916, despite 
the fact that many industrial areas were under martial law or 


'reinforced security'. The strikes came to a head at the end of 
February 1917, and would have been smashed, but for the fact that 
the peasants were angry and desperate also. Nearly all the soldiers 
were peasants, and when the Petrograd garrison was ordered to 
coerce the factory workers it mutinied. About a third, some 66,000, 
defied their officers. As they were armed, the regime collapsed. So the 
first stage of the Revolution was the work of peasants. 

The destruction of the autocracy inevitably carried with it the rural 
hierarchy. Those peasants without plots began to seize and parcel up 
the big estates. That might not have mattered. The Provisional 
Government was bound to enact a land reform anyway, as soon as it 
got itself organized. But in the meantime it was committed to 
carrying on the war. The war was going badly. The Galician 
offensive failed; Lwov had fallen by July. There was a change of 
ministry and Kerensky was made Prime Minister. He decided to 
continue the war, and to do this he had to get supplies out of the 
peasants. It was at this point that Lenin's anti-war policy, by pure 
luck, proved itself inspired. He knew nothing about the peasants; 
had no idea what was going on in the countryside. But by opposing 
the war he was opposing a policy which was bound to fail anyway, 
and aligning his group with the popular peasant forces, both in the 
villages and, more important, within the army. As a result, the 
Bolsheviks for the first time even got a foothold in the countryside: 
by the end of 1917 they had about 2,400 rural workers in 203 
centres. Meanwhile, the attempt to enforce the war policy wrecked 
the Provisional Government. A decree it had passed on 25 March 
obliged the peasants to hand over their entire crop, less a proportion 
for seed, fodder and subsistence. Before the war, 75 per cent of the 
grain had gone onto the market and 40 per cent had been exported. 
Now, with the countryside in revolt, there was no chance of 
Kerensky collecting what he needed to keep the war going. For the 
first time in modern Russian history, most of the harvest remained 
down on the farms. Kerensky got less than a sixth of it. 45 The 
attempt to grab more merely drove the peasants into open revolt and 
the authority of the Provisional Government in the countryside 
began to collapse. At the same time, the failure to get the grain to the 
towns meant a rapid acceleration of food prices in September, no 
bread at all in many places, mutiny in the army and navy, and strikes 
in the factories. By the beginning of October, the revolt of the 
peasants had already kicked the guts out of Kerensky's 
government. 46 

The moment had now arrived for Lenin to seize power with the 
Vanguard elite' he had trained for precisely this purpose. He had, of 
course, no mandate to destroy parliamentary government. He had no 


mandate for anything, not even a notional Marxist one. He was not a 
peasant leader. He was not much of a proletarian leader either. In any 
case the Russian proletariat was tiny. And it did not want Leninism. Of 
more than one hundred petitions submitted by industrial workers to the 
central authorities in March 1917, scarcely any mentioned Socialism. 
Some 5 1 per cent demanded fewer hours, 1 8 per cent higher wages, 1 5 
per cent better work conditions and 12 per cent rights for workers' 
committees. There was no mass support for a 'revolution of the 
proletariat'; virtually no support at all for anything remotely resem- 
bling what Lenin was proposing to do. 47 This was the only occasion, 
from that day to this, when Russian factory workers had the chance to 
say what they really wanted; and what they wanted was to improve 
their lot, not to turn the world upside down. By 'workers' committees' 
they meant Soviets. These had first appeared in 1905, quite spon- 
taneously. Lenin was baffled by them: according to the Marxist texts 
they ought not to exist. However, they reappeared in the 'February 
Revolution', and when he returned to Russia in April 1917 he decided 
they might provide an alternative vehicle to the parliamentary system 
he hated. He thought, and in this respect he was proved right, that some 
at least of the factory Soviets could be penetrated and so manipulated by 
his men. Hence his 'April Theses' advocated 'Not a parliamentary 
republic . . . but a republic of Soviets of Workers', Poor Peasants' and 
Peasants' Deputies throughout the country, growing from below 
upwards'. 48 Ever a skilful opportunist, he began to see Soviets as a 
modern version of the 1 870 Paris Commune: they could be managed by 
a determined group, such as his own, and so become the instrument for 
the 'dictatorship of the proletariat'. Hence when the Bolsheviks met in 
conference later in April he got them to voice the demand that 
'proletarians of town and country' should bring about 'the rapid 
transfer of all state power into the hands of the Soviets'. 49 When 
Trotsky, who had actually worked in a 1905 Soviet, arrived in May he 
was put in charge of an effort to capture the most important of the town 
Soviets, in Petrograd. 

In early June 1917, the first All-Russian Congress of Soviets met with 
822 delegates. The towns were absurdly over-represented. The Social 
Revolutionaries, who spoke for the peasants, had 285 delegates. The 
Mensheviks, who represented the organized workers, had 248. There 
were minor groups totalling 150 and forty-five with no label. The 
Bolsheviks had 1 05 . 50 The anarchists staged a trial of strength on 3 July 
when they ordered big street demonstrations against the war. But they 
were scattered by loyal troops, Pravda was shut down and some 
Bolsheviks, including Kamenev and Trotsky, put in gaol. Lenin was 
allowed to escape to Finland : he was not yet considered a fatal enemy. 5 1 
The decisive change came during the summer and early autumn. The 


war-fronts began to collapse. In August Kerensky held an all-party 
'State Conference' in Moscow, attended by 2,000 delegates. It 
accomplished nothing. At the end of the month, a Tsarist general, 
Kornilov, staged a military revolt which ended in fiasco. All these 
events played into Lenin's hands, especially the last which allowed 
him to create an atmosphere of fear in which he could persuade 
people it was necessary to break the law to 'preserve' the new 
republic. But it was, above all, the failure of Kerensky to get food out 
of the peasants which sapped legal order. Troops were demobilizing 
themselves and flocking to the cities where there was no bread for 
them. There, they joined or formed Soviets, and were soon electing 
Bolshevik spokesmen who promised an immediate end to the war 
and the distribution of all estates to the peasants. By early September 
the Bolsheviks had majorities on both the Petrograd and the Moscow 
Soviets, the two that really mattered, and on 14 September Lenin, 
still in hiding, felt strong enough to issue the slogan 'All power to the 
Soviets'. 52 Trotsky, just out of gaol, immediately became president of 
the Petrograd Soviet, the focus of the coming uprising. 

Trotsky, indeed, was the active agent of the Revolution. But Lenin 
was the master-mind, who took all the key decisions and provided 
the essential 'will to power'. The Bolshevik Revolution, let alone the 
creation of the Communist state, would have been quite impossible 
without him. He slipped back into Petrograd in disguise on 9 
October and at a meeting of the Central Committee the next day he 
won a 10-2 vote for an armed rising. A Political Bureau or 
'Politburo' — the first we hear of it — was created to manage the 
rising. But the actual military preparations were made by a 'military- 
revolutionary committee', formed under Trotsky from the Petrograd 
Soviet. The rising was timed to make use of the second All-Russian 
Congress of Soviets, which met on 25 October. The previous 
evening, Lenin formed an embryo government, and in the morning 
Trotsky's men went into action and seized key points throughout the 
city. The members of the Provisional Government were taken 
prisoner or fled. There was very little bloodshed. That afternoon the 
Bolsheviks got the Congress of Soviets to approve the transfer of 
power. The following day, before dispersing, it adopted a decree 
making peace, another abolishing landed estates and a third approv- 
ing the composition of the Council of People's Commissars, or 
Sovnarkom for short, the first Workers' and Peasants' 
Government. 53 But as Stalin was later careful to point out, it was the 
military revolutionary committee which seized power, and the 
Congress of Soviets 'only received the power from the hands of the 
Petrograd Soviet'. 54 His object in making* this distinction was to 
preserve the notion of a Marxist proletarian revolution. Certainly 


there was nothing legal about the way in which Lenin came to 
power. But it was not a revolutionary uprising either. It was an 
old-style coup, or as the Germans were soon to call it, a putsch. 
There was nothing Marxist about it. 

At the time, however, Lenin astutely made the greatest possible use 
of the spurious legitimacy conferred upon his regime by the Soviets. 
Indeed for the next two months he carefully operated at two levels, 
which corresponded in a curious way to the Marxist perception of 
the world. On the surface was the level of constitutional arrange- 
ments and formal legality. That was for show, for the satisfaction of 
the public, and for the outside world. At a lower level were the deep 
structures of real power: police, army, communications, arms. That 
was for real. At the show level, Lenin described his government as 
'provisional' until the 'Constituent Assembly', which the Kerensky 
government had scheduled for election on 12 November, had had a 
chance to meet. So the elections proceeded, with the Bolsheviks 
merely one of the participating groups. It was the first and last true 
parliamentary election ever held in Russia. As expected it returned a 
majority of peasant-oriented Social Revolutionaries, 410 out of 707. 
The Bolsheviks had 175 seats, the Mensheviks were down to sixteen, 
the bourgeois Kadets had seventeen and 'national groups' made up 
the remaining members. Lenin fixed the Assembly's first meeting for 
5 January 1918. To keep up the show he invited three members of 
the sr left wing to join his Sovnarkom. This had the further 
advantage of splitting the srs so that he now had a majority in the 
Congress of Soviets, and he summoned that to meet three days after 
the Assembly had been dealt with. He intended it would thereafter 
remain the tame instrument of his legitimacy. Reassured, perhaps, by 
these constitutional manoeuvres, the great city of Petrograd went 
about its business and pleasures. Even on the day Kerensky was 
overthrown, all the shops remained open, the trams ran, the cinemas 
were crowded. The Salvation Army, which the republic had admitted 
for the first time, played on street-corners. Karsavina was at the 
Mariinsky. Chaliapin sang at concerts. There were packed public 
lectures. Society congregated at Contant's restaurant. There was 
extravagant gambling. 55 

Meanwhile, down among the structures, Lenin worked very fast. It 
is significant that, when he had so much else to do, he gave priority 
to controlling the press. In September, just before the putsch, he had 
publicly called for 'a much more democratic' and 'incomparably 
more complete' freedom of the press. In fact under the republic the 
press had become as free as in Britain or France. Two days after he 
seized power, Lenin ended this freedom with a decree on the press. 
As part of 'certain temporary, extraordinary measures', any news- 


papers 'calling for open resistance or insubordination to the Wor- 
kers' or Peasants' Government', or 'sowing sedition through demon- 
strably slanderous distortions of fact', would be suppressed and their 
editors put on trial. By the next day the government had closed down 
ten Petrograd newspapers; ten more were shut the following week. 56 
Management of the news was entrusted primarily to the Bolshevik 
party newspaper, Pravda, and the paper of the Soviets, Isvestia, now 
taken over by Sovnarkom. 

Meanwhile, with great speed if in some confusion, the physical 
apparatus of power was being occupied by the Bolshevik activists. 
The method was corporatist. Every organization, from factories to 
the trams, held Soviet-style elections. This was the easiest way to 
ensure that delegates chosen were broadly acceptable to the regime. 
Later, Boris Pasternak was to give a vignette of the process: 

Everywhere there were new elections: for the running of housing, trade, 
industry and municipal services. Commissars were being appointed to each, 
men in black leather jerkins, with unlimited powers and an iron will, armed 
with means of intimidation and revolvers, who shaved little and slept less. 
They knew the shrinking bourgeois breed, the average holder of cheap 
government stocks, and they spoke to them without the slightest pity and 
with Mephistophelean smiles, as to petty thieves caught in the act. These 
were the people who reorganized everything in accordance with the plan, 
and company after company, enterprise after enterprise, became Bolshe- 
vised. 57 

This physical takeover was quickly given an infrastructure of 
decree-law. 10 November: Peter the Great's Table of Ranks abo- 
lished. 22 November: house searches authorized; fur coats confi- 
scated. 11 December: all schools taken from the Church and handed 
to the state. 14 December: state monopoly of all banking activity; all 
industry subjected to 'workers' control'. 16 December: all army 
ranks abolished. 21 December: new law code for 'revolutionary 
courts'. 24 December: immediate nationalization of all factories. 29 
December: all payments of interest and dividends stopped; bank- 
withdrawals strictly limited. As the novelist Ilya Ehrenburg put it 
later: 'Every morning the inhabitants carefully studied the new 
decrees, still wet and crumpled, pasted on the walls: they wanted to 
know what was permitted and what was forbidden.' 58 

But even at this stage some of the key moves in the consolidation 
of power were not reflected in public decree-laws. In the initial stages 
of his take-over, Lenin depended entirely on the armed bands 
Trotsky had organized through the Petrograd Soviet. They were 
composed partly of politically motivated young thugs, the 'men in 
black leather jerkins', partly of deserters, often Cossacks. An eye- 


witness described the scene in the rooms of the Smolny Institute, 
from which the Bolsheviks initially operated: 'The Bureau was 
packed tight with Caucasian greatcoats, fur caps, felt cloaks, gal- 
loons, daggers, glossy black moustaches, astounded, prawn-like eyes, 
and the smell of horses. This was the elite, the cream headed by 
"native" officers, in all perhaps five hundred men. Cap in hand they 
confessed their loyalty to the Revolution.' 59 These men were effective 
in overawing the crumbling republic. But for the enforcement of the 
new order, something both more sophisticated and more ruthless 
was required. Lenin needed a political police. 

Believing, as he did, that violence was an essential element in the 
Revolution, Lenin never quailed before the need to employ terror. He 
inherited two traditions of justification for terror. From the French 
Revolution he could quote Robespierre: The attribute of popular 
government in revolution is at one and the same time virtue and 
terror, virtue without which terror is fatal, terror without which 
virtue is impotent. The terror is nothing but justice, prompt, severe, 
inflexible; it is thus an emanation of virtue.' 60 Brushing aside the 
disastrous history of the Revolutionary Terror, Marx had given the 
method his own specific and unqualified endorsement. There was, he 
wrote, 'only one means to curtail, simplify and localize the bloody 
agony of the old society and the bloody birth-pangs of the new, only 
one means — the revolutionary terror'. 61 But Marx had said different 
things at different times. The orthodox German Marxists did not 
accept that terror was indispensable. A year after Lenin seized 
power, Rosa Luxemburg, in her German Communist Party pro- 
gramme of December 1918, stated: 'The proletarian revolution 
needs for its purposes no terror, it hates and abominates murder.' 62 
Indeed, one of the reasons why she opposed Lenin's 'vanguard elite' 
attempt to speed up the historical process of the proletarian revolu- 
tion was precisely because she thought it would tempt him to use 
terror - as the Marxist text hinted - as a short-cut, especially against 
the background of the Tsarist autocracy and general Russian barbar- 
ism and contempt for life. 

In fact the real tragedy of the Leninist Revolution, or rather one of 
its many tragedies, is that it revived a savage national method of 
government which was actually dying out quite fast. In the eighty 
years up to 1917, the number of people executed in the Russian 
empire averaged only seventeen a year, and the great bulk of these 
occurred in the earlier part of the period. 63 Wartime Russia in the 
last years of the Tsars was in some ways more liberal than Britain 
and France under their wartime regulations. The Republic abolished 
the death penalty completely, though Kerensky restored it at the 
front in September 1917. Most of Lenin's own comrades were 


opposed to it. Most of the early Bolshevik killings were the work of 
sailors, who murdered two former ministers on 7 January 1918, 
and carried out a three-day massacre in Sevastopol the following 
month, or were indiscriminate peasant slaughters deep in the coun- 
tryside. 64 

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the decision to use 
terror and oppressive police power was taken very early on by 
Lenin, endorsed by his chief military agent Trotsky; and that it was, 
as Rosa Luxemburg feared it would be, an inescapable part of his 
ideological approach to the seizure and maintenance of authority, 
and the type of centralized state he was determined to create. And 
this in turn was part of Lenin's character, that will to power he had 
in such extraordinary abundance. As early as 1901 Lenin warned: 
'In principle we have never renounced terror and cannot renounce 
it.' 65 Again: 'We'll ask the man, where do you stand on the 
question of the revolution? Are you for it or against it? If he's 
against it, we'll stand him up against a wall.' Shortly after he came 
to power he asked: 'Is it impossible to find among us a Fouquier- 
Tinville to tame our wild counter-revolutionaries?' 66 The number of 
times Lenin, as head of the government, began to use such express- 
ions as 'shoot them', 'firing-squad', 'against the wall', suggests a 
growing temperamental appetite for extreme methods. 

There was also a revealing furtiveness, or rather deliberate du- 
plicity, in the manner in which Lenin set up the instrument to be 
used, if necessary, for counter-revolutionary terror. The original 
Bolshevik armed force, as already explained, was Trotsky's milit- 
ary-revolutionary committee of the Petrograd Soviet. Trotsky had 
no scruples about continuing to use force even after the Revolution 
had succeeded: 'We shall not enter into the kingdom of socialism in 
white gloves on a polished floor', was how he put it. 67 Immediately 
after 25— 26 October 1917, this committee became a sub-committee 
of the Central Executive and was given security jobs including 
fighting 'counter-revolution', defined as 'sabotage, concealment 'of 
supplies, deliberate holding up of cargoes, etc'. Its constitution was 
made public in a Sovnarkom decree of 12 November 1917. 68 As it 
was charged with examining suspects, it set up a special section 
under Felix Dzerzhinsky, a fanatical Pole who was in charge of 
security at Smolny. However, when on 7 December 1917 the 
military committee was finally dissolved by another Sovnarkom 
decree, Dzerzhinsky's section remained in being, becoming the 
'All-Russian Extraordinary Commission' (Cheka), charged with 
combating 'counter-revolution and sabotage'. The decree which 
created the Cheka was not made public until more than ten years 
later (Pravda, 18 December 1927), so that Lenin's security force 


was from the beginning and remained for the rest of his life a secret 
police in the true sense, in that its very existence was not officially 
acknowledged. 69 

There was no question that, from the very start, the Cheka was 
intended to be used with complete ruthlessness and on a very large 
scale. A week before it came into official though secret existence, 
Trotsky was challenged about the growing numbers of arrests and 
searches. He defended them to the All-Russian Congress of Peasants' 
Deputies, insisting that 'demands to forgo all repressions at a time of 
civil war are demands to abandon the civil war'. 70 The Cheka had a 
committee of eight under Dzerzhinsky and he quickly filled up its 
ranks, and the corps of senior inspectors and agents, with other 
fanatics. Many of them were fellow Poles or Latvians, such as the 
sinister Latsis, or 'Peters', brother of Peter the Painter of the Sidney 
Street Siege, perpetrator of a series of murders in Houndsditch, and 
Kedrov, a sadist who eventually went mad. The speed with which the 
force expanded was terrifying. It was recruiting people as fast as it 
could throughout December 1917 and January 1918, and one of its 
first acts was to see set up a nationwide intelligence service by asking 
all local Soviets for 'information about organizations and persons 
whose activity is directed against the revolution and popular author- 
ity'. This decree suggested that local Soviets should themselves set up 
security committees to report back to professional agents, and from 
the first the Cheka was assisted by a growing horde of amateur and 
part-time informers. Its full-time ranks grew inexorably. The Tsar's 
secret police, the Okhrana, had numbered 15,000, which made it by 
far the largest body of its kind in the old world. By contrast, the 
Cheka, within three years of its establishment, had a strength of 
250,000 full-time agents. 71 Its activities were on a correspondingly 
ample scale. While the last Tsars had executed an average of 
seventeen a year (for all crimes), by 1918-19 the Cheka was 
averaging 1,000 executions a month for political offences alone. 72 

This figure is certainly an understatement — for a reason which 
goes to the heart of the iniquity of the system Lenin created. Almost 
immediately after the Cheka came into being, a decree set up a new 
kind of 'revolutionary tribunal', to try those 'who organize uprisings 
against the authority of the Workers' and Peasants' Government, 
who actively oppose it o.r do not obey it, or who call on others to 
oppose or disobey it', and civil servants guilty of sabotage or 
concealment. The tribunal was authorized to fix penalties in accor- 
dance with 'the circumstances of the case and the dictates of the 
revolutionary conscience'. 73 This decree effectively marked the end 
of the rule of law in Lenin's new state, then only weeks old. It 
dovetailed into the Cheka system. Under the Tsars, the Okhrana was 


empowered to arrest, but it then had to hand over the prisoner to the 
courts for public trial, just like anyone else; and any punishments were 
meted out by the ordinary civil authorities. Under Lenin's system, the 
Cheka controlled the special courts (which met in secret) and carried 
out their verdicts. Hence once a man fell into the Cheka's hands, his only 
safeguard was 'the dictates of the revolutionary conscience'. As the 
Cheka arrested, tried, sentenced and punished its victims, there was 
never any reliable record of their numbers. Within weeks of its 
formation, the Cheka was operating its first concentration and labour 
camps. These arose from a Sovnarkom decree directing 'bourgeois men 
and women' to be rounded up and set to digging defensive trenches in 
Petrograd. 74 Camps were set up to house and guard them, and once the 
Cheka was given supervision over the forced labour programme, its 
prison-camps began to proliferate on the outskirts of towns, or even 
deep in the countryside —the nucleus of what was to become the gigantic 
'Gulag Archipelago'. By the end of 1 9 1 7, when Lenin had been in power 
only nine or ten weeks, it would be correct to say that the Cheka was 
already a 'state within a state'; indeed as regards many activities it was 
the state. 

We can dismiss the notion that its origins and growth were contrary 
to Lenin's will. All the evidence we possess points in quite the opposite 
direction. 75 It was Lenin who drafted all the key decrees and 
Dzerzhinsky was always his creature. Indeed it was Lenin personally 
who infused the Cheka with the spirit of terror and who, from January 
1918 onwards, constantly urged it to ignore the doubts and humanita- 
rian feelings of other Bolsheviks, including many members of Sovnar- 
kom. When Lenin transferred the government from Petrograd to 
Moscow for security reasons, and placed Sovnarkom within the 
Kremlin, he encouraged Dzerzhinsky to set up his own headquarters 
independently of Sovnarkom. A large insurance company building was 
taken over in Lubyanka Square; inside it an 'inner prison' was built for 
political suspects ; and from this point on the Cheka was an independent 
department of state reporting directly to Lenin. He left its officials in no 
doubt what he wanted. In January 1918, three months before the civil 
war even began, he advocated 'shooting on the spot one out of every ten 
found guilty of idling'. A week later he urged the Cheka publicly: 'Until 
we apply the terror - shooting on the spot - to speculators, we shall 
achieve nothing.' A few weeks later he demanded 'the arrest and 
shooting of takers of bribes, swindlers, etc'. Any breach of the decree 
laws must be followed by 'the harshest punishment'. 76 On 22 February, 
he authorized a Cheka proclamation ordering local Soviets to 'seek out, 
arrest and shoot immediately' a whole series of categories of 'enemies, 
speculators, etc'. 77 He followed this general decree with his own 
personal instructions. Thus, by August 1918, he was telegraphing the 


Soviet at Nizhni-Novgorod: 'You must exert every effort, form a 
troika of dictators . . . instantly introduce mass terror, shoot and 
transport hundreds of prostitutes who get the soldiers drunk, ex- 
officers, etc. Not a minute to be wasted.' 78 His example inspired 
others. The next month the army newspaper proclaimed: 'Without 
mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of 
hundreds, let them be thousands, let them drown themselves in 
their own blood ... let there be floods of blood of the bourgeois.' 79 
Lenin's incitements brought their results. In the first six months of 
1918 the Cheka executed, according to its official figures, only 
twenty-two prisoners. In the second half of the year it carried out 
6,000 executions, and in the whole of 1919 some 10,000. 
W.H. Chamberlain, the first historian of the revolution, who was an 
eye-witness, calculated that by the end of 1920 the Cheka had 
carried out over 50,000 death sentences. 80 

However, the most disturbing and, from the historical point of 
view, important characteristic of the Lenin terror was not the 
quantity of the victims but the principle on which they were 
selected. Within a few months of seizing power, Lenin had aban- 
doned the notion of individual guilt, and with it the whole Judeo- 
Christian ethic of personal responsibility. He was ceasing to be 
interested in what a man did or had done - let alone why he had 
done it — and was first encouraging, then commanding, his repress- 
ive apparatus to hunt down people, and destroy them, not on the 
basis of crimes, real or imaginary, but on the basis of generaliza- 
tions, hearsay, rumours. First came condemned categories: 'pros- 
titutes', 'work-shirkers', 'bagmen', 'speculators', 'hoarders', all of 
whom might vaguely be described as criminal. Following quickly, 
however, came entire occupational groups. The watershed was 
Lenin's decree of January 1918 calling on the agencies of the state 
to 'purge the Russian land of all kinds of harmful insects'. This was 
not a judicial act: it was an invitation to mass murder. Many years 
later, Alexander Solzhenitsyn listed just a few of the groups who 
thus found themselves condemned to destruction as 'insects'. They 
included 'former zemstvo members, people in the Cooper 
movements, homeowners, high-school teachers, parish councils and 
choirs, priests, monks and nuns, Tolstoyan pacifists, officials of 
trade unions' - soon all to be classified as 'former people'. 81 Quite 
quickly the condemned group decree-laws extended to whole 
classes and the notion of killing people collectively rather than 
individually was seized upon by the Cheka professionals with 
enthusiasm. Probably the most important Cheka official next to 
Dzerzhinsky himself was the ferocious Latvian M.Y. Latsis. He 
came nearest to giving the Lenin terror its true definition: 


The Extraordinary Commission is neither an investigating commission nor 
a tribunal. It is an organ of struggle, acting on the home front of a civil war. 
It does not judge the enemy: it strikes him .... We are not carrying out war 
against individuals. We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class. We are 
not looking for evidence or witnesses to reveal deeds or words against the 
Soviet power. The first question we ask is — to what class does he belong, 
what are his origins, upbringing, education or profession? These questions 
define the fate of the accused. This is the essence of the Red Terror. 82 

Once Lenin had abolished the idea of personal guilt, and had 
started to 'exterminate' (a word he frequently employed) whole 
classes, merely on account of occupation or parentage, there was no 
limit to which this deadly principle might be carried. Might not 
entire categories of people be classified as 'enemies' and condemned 
to imprisonment or slaughter merely on account of the colour of 
their skin, or their racial origins or, indeed, their nationality? There is 
no essential moral difference between class-warfare and race- 
warfare, between destroying a class and destroying a race. Thus the 
modern practice of genocide was born. 

While the Cheka was getting itself organized, Lenin proceeded to 
wind up the democratic legacy of the republic. The Constituent 
Assembly had been elected on 12 November 1917. Lenin made clear 
his attitude towards it on 1 December: 'We are asked to call the 
Constituent Assembly as originally conceived. No thank you! It was 
conceived against the people and we carried out the rising to make 
certain that it will not be used against the people.' 83 In his 'Theses on 
the Constituent Assembly', published anonymously in Pravda of 13 
December, he contrasted a parliament, which 'in a bourgeois repub- 
lic .. . is the highest form of the democratic principle', with a Soviet, 
which 'is a higher form of the democratic principle'. Hence 'any 
attempt ... to look at the . . . Constituent Assembly from the formal, 
juridical standpoint, within the framework of bourgeois democracy' 
was treason to the proletariat. Unless the Assembly made 'an 
unconditional declaration of acceptance of the Soviet power', it 
would face a crisis to be 'solved only by revolutionary means'. 84 This 
was not so much an argument as a blunt statement by Lenin that his 
regime would not accept any form of democratic control by a 
parliament. Four days later, to underline his point, he arrested the 
leader of the right-wing section of the Social Revolutionaries, 
Avksientiev, and his chief followers, 'for the organization of a 
counter-revolutionary conspiracy'. 85 

By the time the Assembly met on 5 January 1918, Lenin had 
already put together the essentials of a repressive regime, albeit on a 
small scale as yet (the Cheka had only 120 full-time agents), and was 


therefore in a position to treat the parliament with the contempt he felt 
it deserved. He did not put in an appearance but he had written the 
script down to the last line. The building was 'guarded' by the Baltic 
Fleet sailors, the most extreme of the armed groups at Lenin's 
disposal. Izvestia had warned the deputies the day before they met 
that 'all power in the Russian republic belongs to the Soviets and 
Soviet institutions' and that if they sought to 'usurp this or that 
function of state power' they would be treated as counter- 
revolutionaries and 'crushed by all means at the disposal of the Soviet 
power, including the use of armed force'. 86 As soon as the deputies 
gathered, Lenin's henchman, Sverdlov, simply pushed from the 
tribune its oldest member, who by a Russian tradition was about to 
open proceedings, and took charge. There followed a long debate, 
culminating in a vote after midnight which went against the Bolshe- 
viks and their allies, 237-138. The Bolsheviks then withdrew, 
followed an hour later by their partners, the Left srs. At 5 am on 6 
January, following instructions sent direct from Lenin, the sailor in 
charge of the guard told the Assembly that its meeting must close 
'because the guard is tired'. It adjourned for twelve hours but never 
reassembled, for later that day, after a speech by Lenin, the Central 
Executive Committee formally dissolved it and a guard was placed on 
the doors to tell the deputies to go back to their homes. An unarmed 
demonstration in favour of the parliament was dispersed, several in 
the crowd being killed. 87 Thus briefly and brutally did Lenin destroy 
parliamentary democracy in Russia. Three days later, in the same 
building and with Sverdlov presiding, the Soviets met to rubber-stamp 
the decisions of the regime. 

By the end of January 1918, after about twelve weeks in authority, 
Lenin had established his dictatorship so solidly that nothing short of 
external intervention could have destroyed his power. Of course by 
this time the Germans were in a position to snuff him out without 
difficulty. They were advancing rapidly on all fronts, meeting little 
opposition. But on 3 March Lenin signed their dictated peace-terms, 
having argued down Trotsky and other colleagues, who wanted to 
pursue a 'no war no peace' line until the German workers' revolution 
broke out. Thereafter, for the rest of the war, the Germans had an 
interest in keeping Lenin going. As their Foreign Minister, Admiral 
Paul von Hintze, put it in July 1918: 'The Bolsheviks are the best 
weapon for keeping Russia in a state of chaos, thus allowing Germany 
to tear off as many provinces from the former Russian Empire as she 
wishes and to rule the rest through economic controls.' 88 

For equal and opposite reasons the Allies were anxious to oust 
Lenin and get Russia back into the war. But Lenin was clearly right to 
settle with the Germans, whose threat to him was near and immediate, 


rather than the Allies, who were distant and divided in their aims. As 
early as 14 December 1917 the British War Cabinet decided to pay 
money to anti-Bolsheviks 'for the purpose of maintaining alive in 
South East Russia the resistance to the Central Powers'. On 26 
December Britain and France divided up Russia into spheres of 
influence for this end, the French taking the south, the British the 
north. 89 In March 1918 the first British troops went to Archangel 
and Murmansk, initially to protect British war stores there. After the 
German armistice the Allies continued with their intervention, for 
Lenin had signed a separate peace with the enemy and at one time 
Winston Churchill hoped to persuade the Council of Ten in Paris to 
declare war formally on the Bolshevik regime. 90 By the end of 1918, 
there were 180,000 Allied troops on Russian territory - British, 
French, American, Japanese, Italian and Greek, as well as Serb and 
Czech contingents - plus 300,000 men of various anti-Bolshevik 
Russian forces supported by Allied money, arms and technical 
advisers. It may be asked: granted the slender, almost non-existent 
popular support Lenin enjoyed in Russia, how did his regime manage 
to survive? 

The short answer is that it was very nearly extinguished in the late 
summer and early autumn of 1919. There was absolutely nothing 
inevitable about its endurance. A number of quite different factors 
worked in its favour. In the first place, with one exception none of 
the Allied statesmen involved even began to grasp the enormous 
significance of the establishment of this new type of totalitarian 
dictatorship, or the long-term effect of its implantation in the heart 
of the greatest land power on earth. The exception was Winston 
Churchill. With his strong sense of history, he realized some kind of 
fatal watershed was being reached. What seems to have brought the 
truth home to him was not only the murder of the entire Russian 
royal family on 16 July 1918, without any kind of trial or justifica- 
tion, but Lenin's audacity, on 31 August, in getting his men to break 
into the British Embassy and murder the naval attache, Captain 
Crombie. To Churchill it seemed that a new kind of barbarism had 
arisen, indifferent to any standards of law, custom, diplomacy or 
honour which had hitherto been observed by civilized states. He told 
the cabinet that Lenin and Trotsky should be captured and hanged, 
'as the object upon whom justice will be executed, however long it 
takes, and to make them feel that their punishment will become an 
important object of British policy'. 91 He told his Dundee electors on 
26 November 1918 that the Bolsheviks were reducing Russia 'to an 
animal form of barbarism', maintaining themselves by 'bloody and 
wholesale butcheries and murders carried out to a large extent by 
Chinese executions and armoured cars .... Civilization is being 


completely extinguished over gigantic areas, while Bolsheviks hop 
and caper like troops of ferocious baboons amid the ruins of cities 
and corpses of their victims.' 'Of all the tyrannies in history', he 
remarked on 11 April 1919, 'the Bolshevik tyranny is the worst, the 
most destructive, the most degrading.' Lenin's atrocities were 'in- 
comparably more hideous, on a larger scale and more numerous than 
any for which the Kaiser is responsible'. His private remarks to 
colleagues were equally vehement. Thus, to Lloyd George: 'You 
might as well legalize sodomy as recognize the Bolsheviks.' To 
H. A. L.Fisher: 'After conquering all the Huns — the tigers of the 
world - I will not submit to be beaten by the baboons.' Once the 
regime consolidated itself it would become far more expansionist 
than Tsarist Russia and, he warned Field Marshal Wilson, 'highly 
militaristic'. 92 Churchill never wavered in his view that it ought to be 
a prime object of the policy of the peaceful, democratic great powers 
to crush this new kind of menace while they still could. 

But even Churchill was confused about means. He resented 
suggestions his colleagues fed the press that he had some kind of 
master-plan to suppress Bolshevism throughout the world. He wrote 
to Lloyd George (21 February 1919): 'I have no Russian policy. I 
know of no Russian policy. I went to Paris to look for a Russian 
policy! I deplore the lack of a Russian policy.' He admitted it was not 
the job of the West to overthrow Lenin: 'Russia must be saved by 
Russian exertions.' 93 All the other Western leaders, in varying 
degrees, were lukewarm about the business. On 14 February 1919 
Wilson said he was for withdrawal: 'Our troops were doing no sort 
of good in Russia. They did not know for whom or for what they 
were fighting.' The French were more interested in building up their 
new ally, Poland, into a big state. Lloyd George was thinking in 
terms of public opinion at home: 'The one thing to spread Bolshev- 
ism was to attempt to suppress it. To send our soldiers to shoot down 
the Bolsheviks would be to create Bolshevism here.' Sir David 
Shackleton, head official at the Ministry of Labour, warned the 
cabinet in June 1919 that British intervention was the main cause of 
industrial unrest. The War Office warned of 'revolutionary talk in 
the Brigade of Guards' and General Ironside, in charge at Archangel, 
cabled home news of 'very persistent and obstinate' mutinies among 
his own troops. 94 

None of this might have mattered if Lloyd George, in particular, 
had regarded Leninism as the ultimate evil. But he did not. Leninism 
subscribed to self-determination. It was prepared to let go, had 
indeed already let go, all the small nations on its fringes: Finland, the 
Baltic states, Poland, possibly the Ukraine, the Crimean and the 
Georgian republics. Marshal Foch, for the French, spoke in terms of 


welding these new democratic states into a cordon sanitaire to seal 
off Bolshevism from civilized Europe. Unlike Churchill, most wes- 
tern opinion saw the Bolsheviks as non-expansionist, prepared to 
settle for a weak Russia, internationally minded. To them, it was the 
anti-Bolshevik commanders, Admiral Kolchak and General Denikin, 
who stood for Tsarist imperialism, the old fear-images of 'the Bear', 
the 'Russian Steamroller' and so forth. This view was by no means 
unfounded. Kolchak persistently refused to give the Allies the 
assurances they wanted about confirming the independence of 
Finland and the Baltic states after he had overthrown Lenin. He 
would not even promise to permit democratic elections in Russia 
itself. Denikin showed himself strongly anti-Polish and hotly op- 
posed to liberty for the Ukrainians, the Caucasus and other small 
nations. He appeared to want to re-establish the Tsarist empire in all 
its plenitude and, worse, with all its traditional ferocity. What 
damaged the image of the White Russians in the West more than 
anything else, not least with Churchill himself, was Denikin's 
identification of Bolshevism with Jewry and the anti-Semitic atroci- 
ties of his troops: during 1919 over 100,000 Jews appear to have 
been murdered in south Russia, by no means all of them in peasant 
pogroms. 95 

The anti-Bolshevik commanders, in fact, never accommodated 
themselves either to the Allies or to the oppressed nationalities. 
Hence, when Denikin took Kiev on 31 August 1919 and advanced 
towards Moscow, Allied forces were already being evacuated in the 
north, releasing masses of Lenin's troops to move south. Again, on 
16 October 1919, General Yudenich's troops were only twenty-five 
miles from Petrograd and Denikin was near Tula west of Moscow: 
within a week his Cossacks had deserted, there were nationalist 
risings in the Ukraine and a general rebellion in the Caucasus. From 
that moment the White Russian tide began to recede and by the end 
of the year their cause was finished. 

Lenin's biggest single asset was his willingness to hand out 
post-dated cheques not only to the nationalists but above all to the 
peasants. No one was then to know that none of the cheques would 
be honoured. The White leaders felt they could not match these 
promises. General Sir Henry Rawlinson, Britain's last commander on 
the spot, thought the victory was due to the character and determina- 
tion of the Bolshevik leaders: 'They know what they want and are 
working hard to get it.' 96 There were only a few thousand Bolshevik 
cadres, but Lenin had filled them with his will to power and given 
them a clear vision to strive for. They had not yet begun to murder 
each other. They were absolutely ruthless - far more so than their 
opponents - in shooting failed commanders, deserters, faint-hearts, 


saboteurs and anyone who argued or caused trouble. Such ferocity, it 
is sad to record, has nearly always paid among the Great Russians; 
and of course it was the Great Russians who constituted the bulk of 
the people behind Lenin's lines. The real intransigent elements, the 
minorities and racial nationalities, were all behind the lines of the 
Whites, who felt unable to make them any concessions. The conjunc- 
tion was fatal. 

Lenin, however, was not without secret friends abroad. The links 
of self-interest established between his regime and the German 
military in November 1917 seem to have been maintained, albeit 
sometimes in tenuous form, even after the Armistice. German 
military assistance to the Bolsheviks is frequently referred to by 
British officers advising Denikin and other White commanders. 97 
The help took the immediate form of Freikorps officers, munitions 
and in due course industrial expertise in building new war factories. 
The last point was vital to the Germans, who under the Versailles 
Treaty had to dismantle their armaments industry. By secretly 
coaching the Bolsheviks in arms technology and developing new 
weapons in Russia they were maintaining a continuity of skills 
which, when the time was ripe, could once more be openly exploited 
back at home. Thus a strange, covert alliance was formed, which 
occasionally broke surface, as at the Rapallo Conference in 1922 
and, still more sensationally, in August 1939, but which for most of 
the time was carefully hidden: a working relationship of generals, 
arms experts, later of secret police, which was to continue in one 
form or another until 22 June 1941. It is one of the ironies of history 
that German specialists first taught Soviet Communism how to make 
excellent tanks, a weapon used to overwhelm Germany in 1943-5. 
The deeper irony is that this was a marriage of class enemies: what 
could be further apart than Prussian generals and Bolsheviks? Yet in 
the final crisis and aftermath of the war, both groups saw themselves, 
and certainly were seen, as outlaws. There was a spirit of gangster 
fraternization in their arrangements, the first of many such Europe 
was to experience over the next twenty years. 

The earliest of Lenin's post-dated cheques to be dishonoured 
was the one he issued to the nationalities. Here, the methodology 
was Lenin's but the agent he used was the former seminarist, Josef 
Djugashvili, or Stalin, whom he made People's Commissar of the 
People's Commissariat of Nationalities (Narkomnats). Throughout 
his career, Lenin showed a brilliant if sinister genius for investing 
words and expressions with special meanings which suited his 
political purposes - a skill with which the twentieth century was to 
become depressingly familiar, in many different forms. Just as, to 
Lenin, a parliament, which he could not control, was 'bourgeois 


democracy', whereas a Soviet, which he could, was 'proletarian 
democracy', so self-determination took on class distinctions. Fin- 
land, the Baltic states, Poland, were lost to Russia. These countries 
were, accordingly, termed 'bourgeois republics', the reservation 
being that, at some convenient future time, when Soviet power was 
greater, they could be transformed into 'proletarian republics' and 
brought into a closer relationship with the Soviet Union. The 
Ukraine, whose grain supplies were essential to the regime's survival, 
was not permitted to opt for 'bourgeois self-determination' and in 
1921-2, after fearful struggles, was obliged to accept 'proletarian 
self-determination', that is, membership of the Soviet Union. 98 

Stalin applied this technique to the Caucasus and Russian Asia 
wherever Bolshevik military power made it possible. If self- 
determination raised its head it was branded 'bourgeois' and 
stamped upon. Such breakaway movements, as he put it, were simply 
attempts 'to disguise in a national costume the struggle with the 
power of the working masses'. Self-determination was a right 'not of 
the bourgeoisie but of the working masses' and must be used solely 
as an instrument in 'the struggle for Socialism'. 99 True, that is 
proletarian, self-determination could not manifest itself until Soviets 
or other authentic proletarian bodies had been formed. Then each 
nationality could exercise its 'right'. Using Narkomnats, Stalin 
created a system to implant in each nationality officials whose party 
loyalties were stronger than their local affiliations, a method which 
his deputy Pestkovsky later described as 'supporting the old tradition 
of Russification'. 100 When, after the defeat of Denikin, a new 
Council of Nationalities was formed, it was merely the mouthpiece 
of Narkomnats policies, and it served to guide local Soviets and 
representative bodies into renouncing 'the right to separate' in favour 
of 'the right to unite', another example of Lenin's verbal sleight. 101 

By the end of 1920, the crucial year, all the nationalities which had 
not already escaped had been safely locked into the Soviet state. The 
Ukraine followed as soon as the Red Army had finally established its 
control there. The key was Lenin's concept of the 'voluntary union', 
the local party supplying the needful element of 'volition' on orders 
from Party headquarters in Moscow. Thanks, then, to the principle 
of 'democratic centralism' within the party, Lenin and later Stalin 
were able to rebuild the Tsarist empire, and Stalin to expand it. A 
propagandist outer structure was provided by the so-called Union of 
Soviet Socialist Republics, which was and still remains a mask for 
Great Russian imperialism. For the constitution of the USSR, the 
first All-Union Congress of Soviets, on 10 January 1923, appointed a 
commission of twenty-five, including three each from the Transcau- 
casian and White Russian republics, five from the Ukraine and five 


from the autonomous republics. But as each one of them was a 
party official under strict orders from above, the constitution was 
actually drawn up in Moscow right at the top (in fact by Stalin 
himself). It was a federal constitution only in superficial nomencla- 
ture; it merely gave an external legal form to a highly centralized 
autocracy, where all real power was in the hands of a tiny ruling 
group. 102 

The stages by which Lenin created this autocracy are worth 
describing in a little detail because they became the grim model, in 
essentials, for so many other regimes in the six decades which have 
followed. His aims were fourfold. First, to destroy all opposition 
outside the party; second, to place all power, including government, 
in party hands; third, to destroy all opposition within the party; 
fourth, to concentrate all power in the party in himself and those he 
chose to associate with him. As with the constitution-making and 
the creation of the USSR, all four objects were pursued simul- 
taneously, though some were attained more quickly than others. 

The elimination of all non-party opposition posed few problems 
once Lenin had got the Cheka organized. The 1918 constitution, 
drafted by Stalin on Lenin's instructions, embodied 'the dictatorship 
of the proletariat', which Lenin once brutally described as 'a special 
kind of cudgel, nothing else'. 103 It contained no constitutional 
safeguards and gave nobody any rights against the state. The power 
of the state was unlimited, indivisible - no separation of legislative 
and executive function, no independent judiciary - and absolute. 
Lenin scorned the antithesis between the individual and the state as 
the heresy of the class society. In a classless society, the individual 
was the state, so how could they be in conflict, unless of course the 
individual were a state enemy? Hence there was no such thing as 
equality of rights; or one man, one vote. In fact, voting for the 
All-Russian Congress of Soviets contained a fundamental gerryman- 
der, in that city Soviets elected a legate for every 25,000 voters, 
whereas rural ones (where the Bolsheviks were weaker) had a 
deputy for every 125,000 inhabitants. In any case entire categories 
of people, as well as countless individuals, were denied the vote 
(and all other civil 'privileges') altogether, and the constitution 
listed among its 'general principles' the laconic observation: 'In the 
general interest of the working class, [the state] deprives individuals 
or separate groups of any privileges which may be used by them to 
the detriment of the socialist revolution.' 104 

Though the Bolsheviks controlled all 'representative' organs from 
the early weeks of 1918 onwards, opposition politicians lingered on 
for a time, though thousands were shot during the civil war. In May 
1920 members of a British Labour delegation visiting Moscow were 


allowed, according to Bertrand Russell, 'complete freedom to see 
politicians of opposition parties'. 105 Six months later, the eighth 
All-Russian Congress of Soviets was the last to admit delegates 
calling themselves Mensheviks or Social Revolutionaries, and even 
these had long since lost all voting rights. By then Martov, the only 
remaining Social Democrat of Consequence, had left Russia and had 
denounced Bolshevism at the Halle congress of independent German 

The last real challenge to the regime from outside the party came 
from the Kronstadt mutiny of 28 February 1921, which began on the 
battleship Petropavlovsk. The sailors had always been the revolu- 
tionary hotheads. They actually believed in freedom and equality. 
They foolishly supposed Lenin did so as well. Had they followed the 
advice of the few ex-Imperial officers left in the navy, they would 
have established a bridgehead on the mainland (Petrograd was 
seventeen miles away) and spread the revolt to the capital, pressing 
their demands by force. That might have entailed the end of the 
regime, for by early 1921 Bolshevism was universally unpopular, as 
the sailors' grievances indicated. In fact they amounted to a total 
indictment of the regime. They asked for the election of Soviets by 
secret ballot, instead of 'show of hands' at 'mass meetings'; and free 
campaigning by the rival candidates. They denounced all existing 
Soviets as unrepresentative. They called for freedom of speech and of 
the press for 'workers, peasants, the anarchist and the Left socialist 
parties', free trade unions, freedom of assembly, the formation of 
peasants' unions, the freeing of 'all socialist political prisoners' and 
anyone imprisoned 'in connection with workers' and peasants' 
movements', the setting up of a commission to review the cases of all 
those in prison or concentration camps, the abolition of 'political 
departments' in the army, navy and public transport, since 'no one 
party can enjoy privileges for the propaganda of its ideas and receive 
money from the state for this purpose', and, lastly, the right of the 
peasants to 'do as they please with all the land'. What they were 
objecting to, in short, was virtually everything Lenin had done since 
he came to power. They were naive, to put it mildly, to assume that 
any single one of their demands would be granted except over 
gun-barrels, or indeed over Lenin's dead body. 

The failure of the sailors to spread revolt to the mainland allowed 
the regime to get itself organized. The fortress was stormed across 
the ice on 18 March, Tukhachevsky, who was in charge, using young 
Army cadets from the military schools, who had to be driven at 
pistol-point by a body of 200 desperate Bolsheviks drafted from the 
tenth Party Congress. The regime's line was that the mutiny had been 
organized from abroad by White Guards and led by Tsarist ex- 


officers. No public trials were held but Lenin carefully selected for 
publication a list of thirteen 'ringleaders', which included a former 
priest, five ex-officers and seven peasants. Hundreds, perhaps thou- 
sands, were murdered after the mutiny was crushed, though the 
details will probably never be known: the episode had been en- 
tombed by official Soviet historiography beneath a massive pyramid 
of lies. 106 

Once the mutiny was crushed, Lenin determined he would no 
longer tolerate any form of political activity outside the party. All 
those, he said, who were not in the party were 'nothing else but 
Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries dressed up in modern, Kron- 
stadt, non-party attire'. Such creatures, he added, 'we shall either 
keep safely in prison or send them to Martov in Berlin for the free 
enjoyment of all the amenities of free democracy'. 107 After this 
declaration, in May 1921, the Cheka quickly moved in to break up 
any remaining Social Democrat activity; that summer marked the 
extinction of visible political opposition in Lenin's state. He had 
given non-Communists the choice that still faces them today sixty 
years later: acquiescent silence, prison or exile. 

At the same time the process began whereby party membership 
became essential to the holding of any important position in the state 
and its endlessly proliferating organs. 'As the governing party,' wrote 
Lenin in 1921, 'we could not help fusing the Soviet "authorities" 
with the party "authorities" — with us they are fused, and they will 
be.' 108 And Kamenev: 'We administer Russia and it is only through 
Communists that we can administer it.' Party members were in- 
structed to take over 'the network of the state administration 
(railways, food supplies, control, army, law-courts etc.)', trade 
unions, and all factories and workshops, even public baths and 
dining rooms and other welfare organs, schools and housing com- 
mittees. In every sphere they were to constitute 'organized fractions' 
and 'vote solidly together'. 109 Communist Party membership was 
now essential to getting on; the party had swollen from 23,600 in 
1917 to 585,000 at the beginning of 1921. From this point date the 
first systematic efforts to screen party members (a 'central verifica- 
tion committee' was set up in October), expel those lacking in zeal, 
subservience or connections, and turn the party card into a valuable 
privilege, to be earned. 110 

Thus there came into being what is, perhaps, the most important 
single characteristic of the Communist totalitarian state: the hier- 
archy of party organs in town, district, region and republic, placed at 
each level in authority over the corresponding organs of the state. 
The 'vanguardism' of the Revolution was now transformed into the 
'vanguardism' of perpetual rule, the party becoming and remaining 


what Lenin called the 'leading and directing force' in Soviet society. 
Nowhere was party control more marked than in the central 
government, and in Sovnarkom itself, which was in theory answer- 
able to the Soviets. S.Lieberman, one of the 'experts' employed by 
Lenin, testified that, by 1921-2, the two key government depart- 
ments, the Council of People's Commissars and the Council of 
Labour and Defence, were already mere rubber-stamps for decisions 
taken within the party. 111 Lydia Bach, who studied the process at the 
time, wrote in 1923 that Sovnarkom, 'having ceased to be a body 
with a will of its own, does nothing but register automatically 
decisions taken elsewhere and place its seal on them'. 112 

Lenin had thus displaced one ruling class by another, the party. 
The 'new class' which the Yugoslav dissident Communist Milovan 
Djilas denounced in the 1950s was already in existence by 1921—2. 
But if the 'vanguard elite', now half a million strong, ultimately to be 
fifteen million, enjoyed privileges, even administrative authority, it 
did not share real power. That was to be the sole right of an inner 
vanguard, a secret elite. One of the most depressing features of the 
Lenin regime, as Rosa Luxemburg had feared, was the almost 
conscious reproduction of the very worst features of Tsardom. The 
Tsars, too, had periodically experimented with 'responsible govern- 
ment', a cabinet system like Sovnarkom. Peter the Great had had his 
'Senate', Alexander I his 'Committee of Ministers' in 1802, Alexan- 
der ii his 'Council of Ministers' in 1857, and there had been another 
such body in 1905. 113 In each case, the combination of autocracy 
plus bureaucracy wrecked the system, as the Tsar dealt privately with 
individual ministers instead of allowing the cabinet to function. The 
whiff of Divine Right was too strong in the Tsar's nostrils, just as 
now the whiff of History, and its handmaiden the Dictatorship of the 
Proletariat, was too strong in Lenin's. 114 When it came to the point, 
he did not want 'responsible government', any more than he wanted 
any kind of legal, constitutional or democratic restraints on his 

This meant crushing all opposition within the party, the third stage 
in the building of Lenin's autocracy. To do Lenin justice, he had 
always made it clear that he believed in a small, centralized party, 
with real decisions in the hands of a very few. He had set this all 
down in a letter to party workers dated September 1902. 115 His 
notions of 'democratic centralism' were clear and well known, 
though not officially defined until a decade after his death in 1934: 
'(1) Application of the elective principle to all leading organs of the 
party from the highest to the lowest; (2) periodic accountability of 
the party organs to their respective party organizations; (3) strict 
party discipline and subordination of the minority to the majority; 


(4) the absolutely binding character of the decision of the higher 
organs upon the lower organs and upon all party members.' 116 Now 
the most obvious thing about this list is that (3) and especially (4) 
completely cancel out (1) and (2). That in fact had been Lenin's 
practice. The Party Congress, though in theory sovereign, and 
meeting annually between 1917 and 1924, in fact took no leading 
part after its ratification of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 
1918. It became a mere form, like the All-Russian Congress of 
Soviets. The Central Committee succeeded to its authority. 

Lenin took advantage of the thrill of terror the Kronstadt mutiny 
had sent through the party to end any lingering notion of democracy 
within it. At the tenth Party Congress, which took place while the 
mutineers were still uncrushed, he told the delegates (9 March 1921) 
that the time had come to make the party monolithic: 'We do not 
need any opposition now, comrades. Now is not the time. Either on 
this side or on that — with a rifle, not with the opposition! No more 
opposition now, comrades! The time has come to put an end to 
opposition, to put the lid on it. We have had enough opposition!' 
They must end 'the luxury of discussions and disputes'. It was 'a 
great deal better to "discuss with rifles" than with the theses of the 
opposition'. 117 

Under the influence of this speech, and with the feeling perhaps 
that, if the mutiny succeeded, they would all be hanged in a fortnight, 
the comrades concentrated their minds wonderfully and passed a 
series of resolutions which gave Lenin everything he wanted. They 
included a secret rider, known as 'Point Seven', which gave the 
Central Committee 'full powers ... to apply all measures of party 
sanctions, including expulsion from the party' when any 'breach of 
discipline or revival or toleration of factionalism' took place. Such 
explusion would apply even to members of the cc, by a two-thirds 
vote, and the cc need not even refer the matter to the Congress, 
which thus abdicated. Moreover, 'factionalism' was now created an 
offence on a par with 'counter-revolution', so that all the newly 
created forces of repression, hitherto reserved for enemies of the 
party, could now be used against party members, who would be tried 
and condemned in secret. Some of those present were fully aware of 
the risks. Karl Radek, who had bought Lenin that pair of shoes, told 
the Congress: 'In voting for this resolution, I feel that it can well be 
turned against us. And nevertheless I support it ... . Let the Central 
Committee in a moment of danger take the severest measures against 
the best party comrades if it find this necessary .... Let the Central 
Committee even be mistaken! That is less dangerous than the 
wavering which is now observable.' 118 He knew that party demo- 
cracy was signing its death-warrant. What he (and many, many 


others present) did not realize was that he was signing his own actual 

That was doubtless because the extent to which the Central 
Committee itself had forfeited power to small groups within it, 
including its own bureaucracy, was not yet generally realized, in even 
the higher reaches of the party. The party bureaucracy was a 
deliberate creation of Lenin's. He had not merely a distrust but a 
positive loathing for the old imperial bureaucracy, not least because 
he felt compelled to use it. He wanted his own corps of officials, 
rather as the Tsars (again the sinister parallel) had developed a 
'Personal Chancery' to get round the system of cabinet and respon- 
sible government. 119 On 9 April 1919, in order to counter the 'evils' 
of the old bureaucracy, Lenin issued a decree setting up a People's 
Commissariat of State Control, to keep a watchful eye over state 
officials, and replace them when necessary by reliable people. As the 
Commissar of this bureau he appointed Stalin — it was in fact Stalin's 
first independent job of major importance. 

What Lenin liked in Stalin was undoubtedly his enormous capacity 
for endless drudgery behind a desk. A man like Trotsky was happy 
enough in violent action, or in violent polemics in speech and print. 
What he lacked was the willingness to engage, day after day and 
month after month, in the hard slog of running the party or state 
machinery. For this Stalin had an insatiable appetite, and since he 
appeared to possess no ideas of his own, or rather adopted Lenin's 
the moment they were explained to him, Lenin piled more and more 
offices and detailed bureaucratic work upon this patient and eager 
beast of burden. At the eighth Party Congress in the spring of 1919, 
three new bodies of great importance emerged. These were a 
six-member Secretariat of the Central Committee, an Organization 
Bureau (Orgburo) to run the party on a day-to-day basis, and a 
Political Bureau or Politburo of five, to 'take decisions on questions 
not permitting of delay'. To avoid the dangers of a clash between 
these three bodies, an interlocking membership was arranged. 
Stalin's name appeared on both the Politburo and the Orgburo lists. 

Holding this multiplicity of posts (which included membership of 
several other important committees), and exercising to the full his 
capacity for work, Stalin in the years 1919—21, and clearly on 
Lenin's instructions and with his full support, began to move men 
around within the labyrinthine hierarchies of party and government 
and Soviet organs, with a view to securing a more homogeneous, 
disciplined and docile machine, totally responsive to Lenin's will. He 
thus acquired an immensely detailed knowledge of personalities, 
throughout Russia as well as at the centre, and gradually also gained 
his own following since he became known as the most consistent 


job-provider. All this time he was Lenin's instrument. He was the 
perfect bureaucrat; and he had found the perfect master, with a huge 
will and an absolutely clear sense of direction. 

It is significant that Stalin's handiwork in the recesses of the party 
first began to be visible at the tenth Party Congress in 1921, when 
Lenin got the party to abdicate power over itself. This procedure, 
which in effect gave the Central Committee the right to pass death 
sentences on any members (including its own), meant that Lenin had 
to possess an absolutely dependable two-thirds majority on the cc. 
Stalin supplied it. The newly elected Central Committee included 
many already closely linked to him: Komarov, Mikhailov, Yaro- 
slavsky, Ordzhonikidze, Voroshilov, Frunze, Molotov, Petrovsky, 
Tuntal, and candidate-members like Kirov, Kuibyshev, Chubar and 
Gusev. These were the pliable legion Stalin had recruited on Lenin's 
behalf. He was also extremely active in the new 'Personal Chancery' 
or Party Secretariat, which began to grow almost as fast as the 
Cheka, and for similar reasons. In May 1919 it had a staff of thirty; 
this had risen to 150 by the ninth Party Congress of March 1920; 
and the next year, when Lenin killed democracy in the party, it was 
swollen to 602, plus its own 140-strong staff of guards and messen- 
gers. 120 Finally, at the eleventh Party Congress, Lenin gave Stalin 
formal possession of this little private empire he had so lovingly 
assembled when he made him General-Secretary of the party, with 
his henchmen Molotov and Kuibyshev as assistants. This was 
decided secretly and announced in a little tucked-away story in 
Pravda on 4 April 1922. One of the Bolsheviks, Preobrazhensky, 
protested against such concentration of power in Stalin's personal 
grip. Was it 'thinkable', he asked, 'that one man should be able to 
answer for the work of two commissariats as well as the work of the 
Politburo, the Orgburo and a dozen party committees?' 121 The 
protest seems to have been ignored. 

Two months later Lenin had his first stroke. But his work was 
already complete. He had systematically constructed, in all its 
essentials, the most carefully engineered apparatus of state tyranny 
the world had yet seen. In the old world, personal autocracies, except 
perhaps for brief periods, had been limited, or at least qualified, by 
other forces in society: a church, an aristocracy, an urban bourgeoi- 
sie, ancient charters and courts and assemblies. And there was, too, 
the notion of an external, restraining force, in the idea of a Deity, or 
Natural Law, or some absolute system of morality. Lenin's new 
despotic Utopia had no such counterweights or inhibitions. Church, 
aristocracy, bourgeoisie had all been swept away. Everything that 
was left was owned or controlled by the state. All rights whatsoever 
were vested in the state. And, within that state, enormous and 


ever-growing as it was, every single filament of power could be 
traced back to the hands of a minute group of men - ultimately to 
one man. There was, indeed, an elaborate and pretentious structure 
of representation. By 1922 it meant nothing whatever. You could 
search its echoing corridors in vain to find a spark of democratic 
life. How could it be otherwise? Lenin hated the essence of demo- 
cracy; and he regarded its forms merely as a means to legitimize 
violence and oppression. In 1917, the year he took power, he 
defined a democratic state as 'an organization for the systematic use 
of violence by one class against the other, by one part of the 
population against another'. 122 Who— whom? was his paramount 
criterion. Who was doing what to whom? Who was oppressing 
whom; exploiting or shooting whom? To a man who thought in 
such terms, who seems to have been incapable of thinking in any 
other terms, how could it have been possible to envisage a set of 
political arrangements except as a despotism, conducted by an 
autocrat and ruling by violence? 

At Lenin's last Party Congress, his imagery, more than ever, was 
militaristic: rifles, machine-guns, firing-squads. 'It is indispensable', 
he said, 'to punish strictly, severely, unsparingly the slightest breach 
of discipline.' Or again, 'Our revolutionary courts must shoot.' 123 
Not 'desirable' but indispensable. Not 'may' but must. It was he 
himself, at this time, who drafted the paragraph which remains to 
this day the basis, in Soviet criminal law, of the despotism: 

Propaganda or agitation or participation in an organization or co- 
operation with organizations having the effect ... of helping in the 
slightest way that part of the international bourgeoisie which does not 
recognize the equal rights of the Communist system coming to take the 
place of capitalism, and which is endeavouring to overthrow it by force, 
whether by intervention or blockade or by espionage or by financing of 
the press or by any other means - is punishable by death or imprison- 
ment. 124 

What else was this paragraph, as all-inclusive as words could make 
it, but an unrestricted licence for terror? That indeed was its 
purpose, as he explained in a letter to the Commissar of Justice, 
Kursky, written 17 May 1922, on the eve of his stroke: 'The 
paragraph on terror must be formulated as widely as possible, since 
only revolutionary consciousness of justice and revolutionary con- 
science can determine the conditions of its application in 
practice.' 125 Here, Lenin was encapsulating his lifelong contempt 
for any system of moral law. Just as, a few years later, Adolf Hitler 
was to justify his actions in accordance with what he termed 'the 
higher law of the party', so Lenin laid down the 'revolutionary 


conscience' as the only moral guide to the use of the vast machine for 
slaughter and cruelty he had brought into existence. 

It may be that Lenin believed there was such a thing as a 
'revolutionary conscience'. No doubt he thought he possessed one. 
Up to the end of 1918 he occasionally intervened in the terror to save 
the life of someone he knew personally. But everything else he said 
and did, in speech and writing, in public pronouncements and 
private letters, was to goad on his subordinates to further savagery, 
particularly towards the end. There is no doubt whatever that Lenin 
was corrupted by the absolute power he forged for himself. So were 
his colleagues. The very process of violent revolution, and violent 
self-preservation thereafter, inevitably destroyed conscience and all 
other elements of idealism. The point had been well made a decade 
before, by the wise and sad old Pole Joseph Conrad, in his novel 
about revolution, Under Western Eyes (1911): 

In a real revolution, the best characters do not come to the front. A violent 
revolution falls into the hands of narrow-minded fanatics and of tyrannical 
hypocrites at first. Afterwards come the turn of all the pretentious intellec- 
tual failures of the time. Such are the chiefs and the leaders. You will notice 
that I have left out the mere rogues. The scrupulous and the just, the noble, 
humane and devoted natures, the unselfish and the intelligent may begin a 
movement, but it passes away from them. They are not the leaders of a 
revolution. They are its victims: the victims of disgust, disenchantment - 
often of remorse. Hopes grotesquely betrayed, ideals caricatured - that is 
the definition of revolutionary success. 

Only Lenin's curious myopia about people, springing from his 
fundamental lack of interest in them as individuals, prevented him 
from recognizing that the civil war destroyed the last vestiges of what 
'revolutionary conscience' might once have existed. By that time, of 
course, he himself had been consumed by the organic cancer of 
power. The process had been described in a novel he must surely, 
once, have read, Dostoevsky's House of the Dead: 

Whoever has experienced the power, the unrestrained ability to humiliate 
another human being . . . automatically loses power over his own sensa- 
tions. Tyranny is a habit, it has its own organic life, it develops finally into a 
disease. The habit can kill and coarsen the very best man to the level of a 
beast. Blood and power intoxicate .... The man and the citizen die with the 
tyrant forever; the return to human dignity, to repentance, to regeneration, 
becomes almost impossible. 

Certainly, Lenin never showed the slightest regrets about his 
lifework, though in the last two-and-a-half years of his existence he 
was a sick, angry, frustrated and ultimately impotent creature. It is 


argued that, towards the end, he recognized Stalin as the emergent 
monster he undoubtedly was, and sought desperately to build up 
Trotsky's influence as a countervailing force. One would like to 
think that Lenin became a victim of his own despotism. But the facts 
are by no means clear. There is however one suggestive and sinister 
element. As part of his dehumanizing process, Lenin had insisted 
from the beginning of his rule that the party organs take an interest 
in the health of senior party men, and issue them (on medical advice) 
with orders about leave, hospitalization and rest. In mid-1921 Lenin 
began to experience severe headaches. On 4 June the Orgburo 
ordered him to take leave; he disobeyed it. He took a month's leave 
in July, and began to work less thereafter; there were further orders, 
from the Politburo, in August. He resumed normal work on 13 
September for nearly three months, but in early December his health 
got worse and he spent more time at his country house at Gorky 
outside Moscow. In the early weeks of 1922 there were more orders 
to do little or no work, and he was supposed to visit Moscow only 
with the permission of the Party Secretariat. His impress was on the 
tenth Party Congress throughout but ostensibly he only chaired a few 
committees. He had just left Moscow for a further rest when he had 
his first stroke on 25 May 1922. He was then completely out of 
action for months, and when he returned to work on 2 October, the 
Secretariat, in the name of the Central Committee, enforced a strict 
regime and prevented him from getting access to papers. There is no 
doubt at all that Stalin was the most active agent of this medical 
restriction, and on 18 December he had himself formally appointed 
supervisor of Lenin's health. 126 

This led directly to the Lenin-Stalin breach. Stalin discovered that 
Lenin had been secretly working, contrary to party orders, and, in 
particular, had been dictating letters to his wife. He abused Krup- 
skaya on the phone and threatened to have her investigated by the 
Central Control Commission. 127 On 24 December Lenin dictated his 
so-called 'testament'. This discussed six Soviet leaders by name. 
Stalin was said to have too much power, which he might wield with 
too little caution. Trotsky was described as 'over-preoccupied with 
the purely administrative side of things' ('administrative' was Lenin's 
euphemism for force and terror). On the night of 30 December 
Lenin dictated a further note, showing increased hostility to Stalin, 
and his last two articles were attacks on Stalin's Control Commis- 
sion. On 4 January 1923 Lenin dictated a postscript to his 'tes- 
tament': 'Stalin is too rude . . . intolerable in a Secretary-General. I 
therefore propose to our comrades to consider a means of removing 
Stalin from this post.' 128 On the night of 5 March Lenin wrote to 
Stalin, rebuking him for abusing his wife on the phone and telling 


him to apologize or face 'the rupture of relations between us'. Four 
days later came the second, debilitating stroke which robbed Lenin 
of speech, movement and mind. A final stroke killed him in January 
1924 but by then he had long since ceased to count. 

Lenin thus bequeathed to his successor all the elements of a 
personal despotism in furious working order. What, in the mean- 
time, had happened to the Utopia? In 1919 the American journalist 
Lincoln Steffens accompanied an official US mission sent by Wilson 
to Russia to find out what was going on there. On his return, 
Bernard Baruch asked him what Lenin's Russia was like, and Steffens 
replied, 'I have been over into the future - and it works!' 129 This was 
one of the earliest comments by a western liberal on the new kind of 
totalitarianism, and it set the pattern for much that was to come. 
What on earth can Steffens have seen? The whole object of Lenin's 
'vanguard elite' revolution was to speed up the industrialization of 
the country and thus the victory of the proletariat. Yet once Lenin 
took over the reverse happened. Before the war, Russian industrial 
production was increasing very fast: 62 per cent between 1900 and 
1913. 130 Until the end of 1916 at any rate it continued to expand in 
some directions. But once the peasants refused to hand over their 
1917 harvest (to Lenin's delight and profit) and food ceased to flow 
into the towns, the industrial workers, many of them born peasants, 
began to drift back to their native villages. Lenin's revolution turned 
the drift into a stampede. Beginning in the winter of 1917-18, the 
population of Petrograd fell from 2.4 to 1.5 million; by 1920 it was a 
ghost town, having lost 71.5 per cent of its population; Moscow lost 
44.5 per cent. The year Steffens 'went over into the future', the 
Russian industrial labour force had fallen to 76 per cent of its 1917 
total, and the wastage was greatest among skilled workers. Produc- 
tion of iron ore and cast iron fell to only 1.6 and 2.4 per cent of their 
1913 totals, and total output of manufactured goods, by 1920, was a 
mere 12.9 per cent of pre-war. 131 By 1922, the year Lenin had his 
first stroke, the more independent-minded members of the regime 
were talking of the de-industrialization of Russia. Maxim Gorky told 
a French visitor: 

Hitherto the workers were masters, but they are only a tiny minority . . . the 
peasants are legion .... The urban proletariat has been declining steadily 
for four years .... The immense peasant tide will end by engulfing 
everything .... The peasant will become master of Russia, since he repre- 
sents numbers. And it will be terrible for our future. 132 

What had happened? The truth is, though Lenin understood very 
well how to create a despotism, he had no practical vision of the 
Utopia at all. Marx provided no clue. He described the capitalist 


economy; he said nothing about the socialist economy. It would, 
Marx remarked vaguely, be organized by 'society'. All he was sure 
about was that once 'all elements of production' were 'in the hands 
of the state, i.e. of the proletariat organized as the ruling class', then 
'productive forces would reach their peak and the sources of wealth 
flow in full abundance'. 133 Lenin had no ideas on this subject either. 
He deduced from Marx that 'the state' ought to run the industrial 
economy. Just as the 'vanguard elite' had to take the place of the 
proletariat in forcing through the revolution in an underdeveloped 
industrial economy, so too it would have to represent it in running 
'all elements of production'. And since Lenin believed in ultra- 
centralism in political matters, and had created a machine with 
precisely this end in view, so there must be central control in 
industry, with the party (i.e., himself and immediate associates) 
exercising it. This crude line of thought underlay the 'April Theses' 
and his two other wartime writings, Will the Bolshevists Retain State 
Power? and State and Revolution, It also prompted his decision, in 
December 1917, to create a body called Vesenkha (Supreme Council 
of National Economy) and, during the next dozen or so weeks, 
separate ministries to control the major industries, all of them staffed 
by bureaucrats. 

Thus, almost haphazardly, did Soviet Russia acquire a centralized 
'planned' economy of the type which she has maintained ever since 
and exported to a third of the world. As usual, Lenin thought entirely 
in terms of control; not of production. He thought that provided he 
got the system of control right (with the Politburo taking all the key 
decisions), the results would flow inevitably. He was wholly ignorant 
of the process whereby wealth is created. What he liked were figures: 
all his life he had an insatiable appetite for bluebooks. One some- 
times suspects that inside Lenin there was a book-keeper of genius 
struggling to get out and bombard the world with ledgers. In all his 
remarks on economic matters once he achieved power, the phrase 
which occurs most frequently is 'strict accounting and control'. To 
him, statistics were the evidence of success. So the new ministries, 
and the new state-owned factories, produced statistics in enormous 
quantities. The output of statistics became, and remains to this day, 
one of the most impressive characteristics of Soviet industry. But the 
output of goods was another matter. 

The shape of the Soviet economy was also determined by another 
accidental factor, which gave Lenin a practical vision. This was the 
German war-production machine. One must remember that, during 
the formative period of the Leninist state, its first twelve months, 
Russia was first the negotiating partner, then the economic puppet, 
of Germany. By 1917, as we have seen, the Germans had seized upon 


the state capitalist model of pre-war Russia and married it to their 
own state, now run by the military. They called it 'war socialism'. It 
looked impressive; indeed in many ways it was impressive, and it 
certainly impressed Lenin. From then on his industrial ideas were all 
shaped by German practice. His first industrial supremo, the former 
Menshevik Larin, was also an enthusiastic exponent of German 
methods, which of course fitted in perfectly with Lenin's notions of 
central control. He began to hire German experts, another example 
of the special relationship developing between the anti-democratic 
elements in both countries. When other Bolsheviks objected, Lenin 
replied with his pamphlet On 'Left' Infantilism and the Petty 
Bourgeois Spirit: 

Yes: learn from the Germans! History proceeds by zigzags and crooked 
paths. It happens that it is the Germans who now, side by side with bestial 
imperialism, embody the principle of discipline, of organization, of solid 
working together, on the basis of the most modern machinery, of strict 
accounting and control. And this is precisely what we lack. 134 

German 'state capitalism', he said, was a 'step forward' to socialism. 
History had played a 'strange trick'. It had just given birth to 'two 
separate halves of socialism, side by side, like two chickens in one 
shell': political revolution in Russia, economic organization in 
Germany. Both were necessary to socialism. So the new Russia must 
study the 'state capitalism of the Germans' and 'adopt it with all 
possible strength, not to spare dictatorial methods in order to hasten 
its adoption even more than Peter [the Great] hastened the adoption 
of westernism by barbarous Russia, not shrinking from barbarous 
weapons to fight barbarism.' 135 

So one might say that the man who really inspired Soviet economic 
planning was Ludendorff. His 'war socialism' certainly did not 
shrink from barbarism. It employed slave-labourers. In January 1918 
Ludendorff broke a strike of 400,000 Berlin workers by drafting tens 
of thousands of them to the front in 'labour battalions'. Many of his 
methods were later to be revived and intensified by the Nazis. It 
would be difficult to think of a more evil model for a workers' state. 
Yet these were precisely the features of German 'war socialism' Lenin 
most valued. What the Germans had, what he wanted, was a docile 
labour force. He set about getting it. The first illusion he dispelled 
was that the workers' Soviets which had taken over the factories 
were to run them. His trade union spokesman, Lozovsky, warned: 
'The workers in each enterprise should not get the impression that 
the enterprise belongs to them.' 136 No fear of that with Lenin in 
control! 'Such disturbers of discipline', he said, 'should be shot.' 137 By 
January 1918, the Bolshevik regime had taken over the unions and 


brought them into the government. They were weak anyway. The 
only strong one was the railwaymen's, which put up some resistance 
and was not finally crushed till 1920—1. The other union leaders 
acquired jobs, offices, salaries and became tame government offi- 
cials. As Zinoviev put it, the unions had become 'organs of socialist 
power' and 'organs of the socialist state', and for all workers 
'participation in the trade unions will be part of their duty to the 
state'. So the closed shop was universally imposed and in return 
union officials (who soon had to be party members under party 
discipline) worked closely with ministry bureaucrats and factory 
managers to 'raise socialist production'. In short they became 
company unions of the most debased kind, the 'company' being the 
state. In this corporatist system their main task became 'labour 
discipline' and they found themselves acting as an industrial police- 
force. 138 

Such policing became necessary as Lenin applied his notion of 
'universal labour service' on the analogy of military conscription. 139 
The seventh Party Congress demanded 'the most energetic, unspar- 
ingly decisive, draconian measures to raise the self-discipline and 
discipline of workers'. From April 1918 the unions were set to work 
issuing 'regulations' to 'fix norms of productivity'. Workers who 
rebelled were expelled from the union, with consequent loss of job 
and food-rations, on the lines of Lenin's dictum 'He who does not 
work, neither shall he eat'. 140 Strikes became illegal. 'No strikes can 
take place in Soviet Russia', said the trade union confederation head, 
Tomsky, in January 1919, 'let us put the dot on that "i'Y Strike 
funds were confiscated and sent to promote strikes in 'bourgeois 
countries'. In June 1919 'labour books', modelled on the work- 
passes imposed on natives by various colonial governments, were 
introduced in the big towns. About the same time, the first organized 
labour camps came into existence: 'undisciplined workers', 'hooli- 
gans' and other disaffected or idle people could be sent there by the 
Cheka, revolutionary tribunals or Narkomtrud, the body responsible 
for general labour mobilization. From January 1920 anybody could 
be called up for compulsory corvee: road-making, building, carting 
etc. As a Narkomtrud spokesman put it: 'We supplied labour 
according to plan, and consequently without taking account of 
individual peculiarities or qualifications or the wish of the worker to 
engage in this or that kind of work.' 142 The provincial Chekas ran 
the camps, whose administration was in the hands of a special 
section of the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, the nkvd. 
There was a second tier of camps, with a harsher regime and 
'difficult and unpleasant' work (i.e. in the Arctic), supposedly for 
counter-revolutionaries only, but soon full of ordinary workers. 143 


The end of the civil war did not end compulsory labour. Like all 
Lenin's 'emergency' institutions, it became permanent. Indeed, the 
Third Army in the Urals promptly found itself transformed into 'the 
First Revolutionary Army of Labour' by a decree of 15 January 
1920, and most of its 'soldiers' never saw their homes again. Trotsky 
exulted in what he called 'the militarization of the working class'. 
Radek denounced 'the bourgeois prejudice of "freedom of labour"'. 
The ninth Party Congress in 1920 ordered workers leaving their jobs 
to be branded as 'labour deserters' and punished by 'confinement in 
a concentration camp'. 144 The new anti-society was christened in a 
flourish of Leninist Newspeak: 'We know slave-labour,' Trotsky told 
the third Trade Union Congress, 'we know serf -labour. We know the 
compulsory, regimented labour of the medieval guilds, we have 
known the hired wage-labour which the bourgeoisie calls "free". We 
are now advancing towards a type of labour socially regulated on the 
basis of an economic plan which is obligatory for the whole 
country .... This is the foundation of socialism.' Compulsory labour 
under capitalism, wrote Bukharin, was quite the reverse of compul- 
sory labour under the dictatorship of the proletariat: the first was 
'the enslavement of the working class', the second the 'self- 
organization of the working class'. 145 Both these men were later to 
be murdered by the same verbal fictions. 

In fact, as we have seen, the working class was organizing itself 
back into the villages at an alarming rate. Lenin, like the Tsars and 
Kerensky before him, had somehow to gouge food out of the 
peasants. How to do it - by the market or by bayonets? First he tried 
bayonets. In 1917 he had incited the peasants to seize their land. In 
1918 he tried to grab the land for the state. His 'On the Socialization 
of the Land' law of 19 February 1918 said the object of policy was 
'to develop the collective system of agriculture' at 'the expense of 
individual holdings' in order to bring about 'a socialist economy'. 146 
But in practice, as an official of Narkomzen, the state agriculture 
ministry, put it, 'the land was simply seized by the local peasants'. 
They got 86 per cent of the confiscated land, and only 14 per cent 
went to the newly established state farms and communes. So for the 
autumn 1918 harvest, Lenin sent armed detachments of factory 
workers into the countryside to confiscate what food they could, and 
tried to encourage 'committees of poor peasants' to tyrannize over 
those he termed 'kulaks and rich peasants' who had 'amassed 
enormous sums of money'. 147 Later, Lenin grouped these devices 
together, into twenty-five-strong bands of 'workers and poor pea- 
sants', who got a cut of any food they managed to steal. But, said 
Tsuryupa, Commissar for Agriculture, as soon as they reached the 
country 'they begin to break out and get drunk.' Later still, Lenin 


invented a new category of 'middle peasants', whom he tried to set 
against the 'kulaks'. As these classes existed only in his own mind, 
and bore no relation to actual peasants in real villages, that tactic did 
not work either. 

By the spring of 1921, when the Kronstadt sailors rose, Lenin's 
whole economic policy, such at it was, lay in manifest ruins. Industry 
was producing practically nothing. There was no food in the towns. 
On Lenin's own admission 'tens and hundreds of thousands of 
disbanded soldiers' were becoming bandits. 148 About the only thing in 
plentiful supply was the paper rouble, which the printing presses 
poured out ceaselessly, and which had now fallen to little over 1 per 
cent of its November 1917 value. Some of the Bolsheviks tried to make 
a virtue of necessity and boasted that the inflation was deliberately 
created to smash the old regime of money. One described the presses 
of the state mint as 'that machine-gun of the Commissariat of Finance 
pouring fire into the arse of the bourgeois system'. Zinoviev told the 
German Social Democrats, 'We are moving towards the complete 
abolition of money.' In a sense this was true: paper money has never 
recovered its old significance in the Soviet Union. But the price has 
been permanent shortages in the shops. 

In any case, the peasants would not look at Lenin's paper rouble, 
and in May 1921 he threw in his hand. Plainly, if he did not get some 
food to the towns, his regime would collapse. He may have been 
short of genuine economic ideas, but he was never short of verbal 
ones. He now coined the phrase 'New Economic Planning', nep was, 
in fact, surrender to the peasants and the return to a market system 
based on barter. The goon-squads were withdrawn, and the peasants 
were allowed to get what they could for their food. Small factories 
and workshops were allowed to start up again, outside the control of 
the state, to produce goods the peasants were willing to accept in 
exchange for grain. Unfortunately, the Bolshevik capitulation came 
too late to affect the 1921 sowing, and a dry summer brought 
famine, the first in Russian history to be substantially created by 
government policy. It affected, according to Kalinin, about 27 
million people. As many as 3 million may have died in the winter of 
1921-2. In desperation, the government turned to the American 
Relief Administration organized under Herbert Hoover. For the first 
time, Russia, hitherto one of the world's greatest food-exporting 
countries, had to turn to American capitalist agriculture to save it 
from the disastrous consequences of its experiment in collectivism. 
Sixty years later, the same pattern was being repeated. The peasants 
had destroyed the Tsar and made Leninism possible. Lenin had failed 
to reward them, as he had promised. They exacted a price. It is still 
being paid. 149 


Thus ended, in total failure, the first major experiment in what it 
was now fashionable to call social engineering. Lenin termed it 'a 
defeat and retreat, for a new attack'. 150 But soon he was dead, and 
the 'new attack' on the peasants was to be left to the bureaucratic 
monster he left behind him. Lenin believed in planning because it was 
'scientific'. But he did not know how to do it. He thought there must 
be some magical trick, which in his case took the form of 'electrifica- 
tion'. Fascinated, as he always was, by Germanic 'thoroughness', he 
greatly admired Karl Ballod's Der Zukunftsstaat, published in 1919. 
It inspired his slogan: 'Communism is Soviet power plus electrifica- 
tion of the whole country.' Electricity would do it! It was the last 
word in modern science! 151 It would transform stubborn Russian 
agriculture. Much better to try to electrify everything than to work 
out a complicated general plan, which was nothing but 'idle talk', 
'boring pedantry', 'ignorant conceit'. 152 He took little interest in 
Gosplan (1921), the new planning machinery, until it gave top 
priority to electrification. Then, in his last few active weeks, he 
became enthusiastic about it: it would build vast power-stations! 
Thus began a curious cult which has persisted in the Soviet Union to 
this day, and which has made the heavy electrical engineer the most 
valued figure in Soviet society (next to the arms designer). Lenin's 
legacy was a solidly built police state surrounded by economic ruins. 
But he went to eternity dreaming of electricity. 

Lenin's confident expectations of Marxist risings in the advanced 
industrial countries have long since been buried. How would they 
have succeeded? Lenin's own revolution had only been made poss- 
ible by a huge, inchoate, undirected and pragmatic movement among 
the peasants, which he did not understand and never troubled to 
analyse. His fellow Marxist revolutionaries in industrial Europe had 
no such luck. Besides, by November 1918, when the opportunity for 
revolutionary change in central Europe arrived, the dismal exper- 
iences of Lenin's social enginering — economic breakdown, starva- 
tion, civil war and mass terror — already constituted an awful 
warning, not least to the more moderate socialists. The extremists 
did, indeed, try their hands, and were burnt in the flames they lit. On 
4 November 1918, German sailors and soldiers took over Kiel and 
formed workers' councils. Three days later, the Left socialist Kurt 
Eisner led a rising of the garrison in Munich, and overturned the 
Bavarian government. But the Social Democrats who came to power 
in Germany when the Kaiser fled did not make Kerensky's mistakes. 
Their military expert, Gustav Noske, turned to the army, which 
provided a Freikorps of ex-officers and ncos. The refusal of the 
Leninists to seek power by parliamentary means played into his 
hands. On 6 January 1919 the Berlin Leninists (who called them- 


selves Spartacists) took over the city. Noske marched on it at the 
head of 2,000 men. Three days after he took it, Rosa Luxemburg and 
her friend Karl Liebknecht were murdered by the ex-officers charged 
with taking them to prison. Eisner, too, was murdered on 21 
February. His followers contrived to win only three seats in the 
Bavarian elections. When, despite this, they set up a Communist 
Republic on 7 April, it lasted less than a month and was destroyed by 
the Freikorps without difficulty. It was the same story in Halle, 
Hamburg, Bremen, Leipzig, Thuringia, Brunswick. The Communists 
could neither win elections nor practise violence successfully. 152 

The wind of change was blowing in rather a different direction. By 
the second half of 1919 new types of 'vanguard elites' were making 
their appearance in Europe. They too were socialists. Marx was 
often in their pantheon. But they appealed to something broader 
than an abstract 'proletariat' which was mysteriously failing to 
respond — at any rate as an electoral or a fighting force — and their 
collective dynamic was not so much class as nation, even race. They 
also had a powerful and immediate grievance in common: dissatis- 
faction with the Treaty of Versailles. In Austria, one of the big losers, 
they were called Heimwehren, In Hungary, the biggest loser of all, 
the national temper had not been improved by a putative Communist 
republic, set up in March 1919 by Lenin's disciple Bela Kun. In 
August it collapsed in fire and blood, and the spirit of its successor 
was increasingly that of the anti-Semitic leader Julius Gombos, who 
called himself a National Socialist and appealed passionately for 
justice, revenge and a purge of 'alien elements'. 153 In Turkey, which 
had lost its Arab empire and appeared to be losing its western littoral 
also, Mustafa Kemal Pasha, soon to be 'Ataturk', likewise offered 
national socialism and was already proving that a settlement deter- 
mined in Paris could not be enforced on the spot. Italy, too, though a 
big gainer, still had a grievance against Versailles: she had not got the 
Dalmatian coast. On 1 1 September, the poet and war-hero Gabriele 
d'Annunzio led a raggle-taggle force of army deserters into the port 
of Fiume. It was an impudent bluff: but Britain and France, the 
custodians of the settlement, backed down - an ominous portent. 
D'Annunzio, too, was a national socialist. 

From Milan, Mussolini sniffed this new wind and liked it, just as 
five years earlier he had caught the whiff of wartime excitement, and 
liked that too. The coming of war and his own determination to 
bring Italy into it had taken him right out of the official socialist 
party. It had made him a nationalist, not merely in the romantic- Left 
tradition of Mazzini but in the acquisitive tradition of the old 
Romans, whose fasces, turned into a radical emblem in the French 
Revolution, he found a useful symbol, just as Lenin had picked on 


the hammer and sickle of the old Social Democrats. It made him hate 
Lenin for taking Russia out of the war and so jeopardizing Italy's 
promised gains. He urged the Japanese to march through Russia with 
the command 'Avanti, il Mikado /' By 1919 Lenin's economic failure 
had turned him away from the outright expropriation of industry. 
He now wanted to use and exploit capitalism rather than destroy it. 
But his was to be a radical revolution nonetheless, rooted in the 
pre-war Vanguard elite' Marxism and syndicalism (workers' rule) 
which was to remain to his death the most important single element 
in his politics. Many other young Italian former socialists shared his 
radicalism while abandoning their internationalism. 154 Internation- 
alism had not worked either in 1914, when it had failed to stop war, 
or in 1917, when it had failed to respond to Lenin's call for world 
revolution. But the desire to install a new economic Utopia remained. 

On 23 March 1919 Mussolini and his syndicalist friends founded 
a new party. Its programme was partial seizure of finance capital, 
control over the rest of the economy by corporative economic 
councils, confiscation of church lands and agrarian reform, and 
abolition of the monarchy and senate. In compiling this list Musso- 
lini frequently cited Kurt Eisner as a model. 155 Eisner's Bavarian 
fighting-squads, themselves an imitation of Lenin's 'men in black 
leather jerkins', served to inspire Mussolini's Fasci di Combat- 
timento.^ 56 Indeed, he had shed none of the attachment to violent 
activism he shared with Lenin. Paraphrasing Marx, he pledged 
himself 'to make history, not to endure it'. His other favourite 
quotation was Vivre, ce nest pas calculer, cest agir. 157 His vocabul- 
ary was very like Lenin's, abounding in military imagery and strong, 
violent verbs. Like Lenin, he was impatient to get history moving, 
fast - to velocizzare I'ltalia, as the Futurists like Marinetti put it. 
Indeed he radiated impatience, furiously studying his watch, turning 
with anger on the agents of delay. 

Yet Mussolini was changing. The lean and hungry look had gone 
with his hair. On his bald head a huge cyst had emerged and a dark 
oval mole on his thrusting and now fleshy chin. His teeth were the 
colour of old ivory and widely separated, considered lucky in 
Italy. 158 He was handsome, vigorous, well-launched in a sexual 
career that would bring him 169 mistresses. 159 He was very vain and 
ambitious. He wanted power and he wanted it now. D'Annunzio's 
success persuaded him that radicalism, even radical nationalism, was 
not enough. For fascism to succeed, it must invoke poetry, drama, 
mystery. This had always been a complaint, among the Italian 
Marxists, about Marx himself: he did not understand human beings 
well enough. He omitted the potency of myth, especially national 
myth. Now that Freud had demonstrated - scientifically, too - the 


power of dark and hidden forces to move individuals, was it not time 
to examine their impact on mass-man? D'Annunzio wrote of 'the 
terrible energies, the sense of power, the instinct for battle and 
domination, the abundance of productive and fructifying forces, all 
the virtues of Dionysian man, the victor, the destroyer, the 
creator'. 160 Italy was not short of poetic myths. There was the 
nineteenth-century nationalist myth of Garibaldi and Mazzini, still 
enormously powerful, the Realpolitik myth of Machiavelli (another 
of Mussolini's favourite authors), and the still earlier myth of Rome 
and its empire, waiting to be stirred from its long sleep and set to 
march with new legions. On top of this there was the new Futurist 
myth, which inspired in Mussolini a vision of a socialist Italy, not 
unlike Lenin's electrified Russia, in which 'life will become more 
intense and frenetic, ruled by the rhythm of the machine'. Mussolini 
stirred all these volatile elements together to produce his heavy 
fascist brew, flavouring all with the vivifying dash of violence: 'No 
life without shedding blood', as he put it. 161 

But whose blood? Mussolini was a complex and in many respects 
ambivalent man. Unlike Lenin, he rarely did the evil thing of his own 
accord; he nearly always had to be tempted into it, until long years of 
power and flattery atrophied his moral sense almost completely. He 
was not capable of embarking on a deliberate course of unprovoked 
violence. In 1919-20 he was desperate for a fighting cause. He spoke 
forlornly of fascism as 'the refuge of all heretics, the church of all 
heresies'. 162 Then the socialists, by resorting to violence, gave him 
what he wanted. Their mentor was a frail young Marxist called 
Antonio Gramsci, who came from exactly the same intellectual 
tradition as Mussolini: Marxism, Sorel, syndicalism, a repudiation of 
historical determinism, a stress on voluntarism, the need to force 
history forward by an emphasis on struggle, violence and myth; plus 
Machiavellian pragmatism. 163 But Gramsci, though much more 
original than Mussolini, lacked his aplomb and self-confidence. He 
came from a desperately poor Sardinian family. His father had gone 
to jail and Gramsci, who already suffered from Pott's Disease of the 
lungs, had begun working a ten-hour day at the age of eleven. He 
was amazed when his future wife fell in love with him (and wrote her 
some striking love-letters). Unable to see himself in a leadership role, 
he drew from Machiavelli not a personal prince, like Mussolini, but a 
collective one: 'The modern Prince, the myth-prince, cannot be a real 
person, a concrete individual: it can only be an organization.' 

Thus Gramsci stuck to syndicalism when Mussolini turned to 
romance and drama, and he preached the take-over of factories. In 
1920 the socialists began to follow his advice and soon the Red Flag 
flew over workshops and offices scattered all over the country. There 


was no determined effort to take over the state. Indeed the socialists 
were divided about tactics, and in January 1921 they split, with a 
Communist Party (pci) forging off to the left. The take-over accom- 
plished little except to terrify the middle class. As Errico Malatesta 
warned the moderates: 'If we do not go on to the end, we shall have 
to pay with tears of blood for the fear we are now causing the 
bourgeoisie.' 164 There was not much violence, but enough to give 
Mussolini the excuse to resort to it himself. As in Germany, the 
socialists made a catastrophic mistake in using it at all. 165 As 
Mussolini boasted, the fascist leopard could easily deal with the 'lazy 
cattle' of the socialist masses. 166 

The fascist 'action squads' were formed mainly from ex- 
servicemen, but they constantly recruited students and school- 
leavers. They were much better disciplined and more systematic than 
the socialists and co-ordinated their efforts by telephone. They often 
had the passive or even active support of the local authorities and 
cafabinieri, who would search a socialist casa del popolo for arms, 
then give the go-ahead to the squads, who would burn it down. The 
socialists claimed fascism was a class party, and its terror a Jacquerie 
borghese. Not so: there were thousands of working-class fascists, 
especially in areas like Trieste where a racial element could be 
invoked (the socialists there were mainly Slovenes). It was in these 
fringe areas that fascism first got a mass-following, spreading 
gradually inland to Bologna, the Po Valley and the hinterland of 
Venice. Mussolini, always sensitive towards people, early grasped 
the point that Italy was a collection of cities, each different, each to 
be played by ear. As he got inland, the middle-class element became 
more dominant. Fascism began to exercise a powerful appeal to 
well-to-do youth. One of the most important and dangerous recruits 
was Italo Balbo, who at the age of twenty-five brought Mussolini his 
home town, Ferrara, and soon became head of the fascist militia and 
by far the most ruthless and efficient of the condottieri. 167 In 1921 he 
moved through central Italy, like one of the Borgias, leaving behind 
the smoking ruins of trade union headquarters and a trail of corpses. 
It was Balbo who first terrified bien-pensant Italy into believing 
fascism might be an irresistible force. 

He even terrified Mussolini, who always disliked large-scale 
violence, especially violence for its own sake, and wrote and spoke 
against it. 168 But the expansion of fascism, which pushed him and 
thirty-five other deputies into parliament in May 1921, had also 
placed him, and other former socialists, in a minority within the 
movement. At the fascist Congress of Rome the same year, he was 
forced to compromise. In return for being made Duce, he agreed to 
violence, and 1922 was the year of fascist terror. In effect, the 


authorities connived while a private, party army began an internal 
conquest. In city after city, the town halls were stormed, socialist 
councils driven out of office by force, and local prefects, who wished 
to use the police to resist fascist illegality, were dismissed. The 
parliamentarians could not agree to form a strong government under 
Giolitti, who would have snuffed Mussolini out — the Duce would 
not have fought the state — because the Vatican effectively prevented 
the Church-influenced parties and the moderate socialists from 
coalescing. The new Communist Party (as later in Germany) actually 
hoped for a fascist regime, which it thought would precipitate a 
Marxist revolution. 169 When Balbo seized Ravenna in July 1922 the 
socialists responded by calling a General Strike, which was a 
disastrous failure. 

Italy was not a happy or a well-governed country. It had appalling 
poverty, the highest birth-rate in Europe and, after Germany, one of 
the highest inflation-rates. The risorgimento had brought disappoint- 
ment instead of the promised land. The war and its victories had 
divided Italy rather than united it. The parliamentary regime was 
grievously corrupt. The monarchy was unloved. The state itself had 
been at daggers with the Church since 1871, and was denounced 
from every pulpit on Sundays. The public services were breaking 
down. There was genuine fear of a Red Terror, for the Catholic 
newspapers were full of Lenin's atrocities and the Russian famine. 
Mussolini was not personally identified with violence. On the 
contrary: he seemed to many to be the one to stop it. He had become 
a wonderful public speaker. He had learnt from d'Annunzio the gift 
of conducting a quasi-operatic dialogue with the crowd {'A chi 
I'ltalia?' 'A noiV). But he was not just a demagogue. His speeches 
specialized in the wide-ranging philosophical reflections Italians 
love. Liberals from Benedetto Croce downwards attended his meet- 
ings. By the early autumn of 1922 his oratory had acquired a 
confident and statesmanlike ring. He was now in secret contact with 
the palace, the Vatican, the army, the police and big business. What, 
they all wanted to know, did he want? At Udine he told them, in the 
last of a series of major speeches given all over the country: 'Our 
programme is simple: we wish to govern Italy.' 170 He would govern 
Italy as it had never been governed since Roman times: firmly, fairly, 
justly, honestly, above all efficiently. 

On 16 October 1922 Mussolini decided to force the issue, 
believing that if he waited, Giolitti, the one man he feared, might 
steal his role. He arranged for a march on Rome for the end of the 
month, by four divisions totalling 40,000 blackshirted men. Many 
army and police commanders agreed not to fire on them, and his 
paper, // Popolo d'ltalia, carried the banner: J grigioverdi fraterniz- 


zano con le Camicie Nere! Mussolini had a lifelong capacity for 
hovering uneasily between grandeur and farce. By the time his 
ill-equipped, badly clothed and unfed army had halted outside Rome, 
in pouring rain, on the evening of 28 October, it did not present a very 
formidable spectacle. The government, though weak, had a Rome 
garrison of 28,000 under a reliable commander and it agreed to 
proclaim a state of emergency. But Rome buzzed with rumours and 
misinformation. The little King Victor Emmanuel, tucked up in the 
Quirinale Palace, was told only 6,000 ill-disciplined troops faced a 
horde of 100,000 determined fascists. He panicked and refused to sign 
the decree, which had to be torn down from the walls where it had just 
been posted. At that point the government lost heart. 

Mussolini, for an impatient man, played his cards skilfully. When 
he was telephoned in Milan by the King's adc, General Cittadini, and 
offered partial power in a new ministry, he simply replaced the 
receiver. The next day, 29 October, he graciously consented to form 
his own government, provided the invitation by phone was confirmed 
by telegram. The wire duly came, and that evening he went to Milan 
Station in state, wearing his black shirt, to catch the night-sleeper to 
Rome. As it happened, the wife of the British ambassador, Lady Sybil 
Graham, was also on the train. She saw Mussolini, who was 
surrounded by officials, impatiently consult his watch and turn 
fiercely on the station-master. 'I want the train to leave exactly on 
time', he said. 'From now on, everything has got to function 
perfectly.' 171 Thus a regime, and a legend, were born. 

In the last decade of his life Mussolini became an increasingly tragic, 
even grotesque, figure. Looking back from this later perspective it is 
hard to grasp that, from the end of 1922 to the mid-1930s, he 
appeared to everyone as a formidable piece on the European 
chess-board. Once installed, he did not make any of Lenin's obvious 
mistakes. He did not create a secret police, or abolish parliament. The 
press remained free, opposition leaders at liberty. There were some 
murders, but fewer than before the coup. The Fascist Grand Council 
was made an organ of state and the Blackshirts were legalized, giving 
an air of menace to the April 1924 elections, which returned a large 
fascist majority. But Mussolini saw himself as a national rather than a 
party leader. He said he ruled by consent as well as force. 172 He seems 
to have possessed not so much the will to power as the will to office. 
He wanted to remain there and become respectable; he wished to be 

In 1924 the murder of Giacomo Matteotti, the most vigorous of the 
opposition deputies, ended these illusions. Mussolini was generally 
believed to be responsible. 173 Deputies had been killed before, and it is 
curious that this particular crime aroused such fury in Italy and raised 


eyebrows abroad. It did Mussolini great damage, some of it perman- 
ent, and became for him a kind of Rubicon, cutting any remaining 
links with the socialists and liberals and driving him into the arms of 
his extremists. In a very characteristic mixture of arrogance and 
fatalistic despair, he announced the beginning of fascism in a 
notorious speech delivered on 3 January 1925. Opposition newspap- 
ers were banned. Opposition leaders were placed in confino on an 
island. As Mussolini put it, opposition to the monolithic nation was 
superfluous - he could find any that was needed within himself and 
in the resistance of objective forces - a bit of verbal legerdemain that 
even Lenin might have envied. 174 He produced a resounding totalita- 
rian formula, much quoted, admired and excoriated then and since: 
'Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing 
against the state.' A whole series of 'fascist laws' were drawn up, 
some constitutional, some punitive, some positive, the last being the 
Leggi di riforma sociale^ which purported to bring the Corporate 
State into existence. 

But there was always something nebulous about Italian fascism. Its 
institutions, like the Labour Charter, the National Council of 
Corporations and the Chamber of Fasces and Corporations, never 
seemed to get much purchase on the real Italy. Mussolini boasted, 
'We control the political forces, we control the moral forces, we 
control the economic forces. Thus we are in the midst of the 
corporative fascist state.' 175 But it was a state built of words rather 
than deeds. After all, if Mussolini's totalitarian definition repre- 
sented reality, how was it he was able to come to terms with the 
Church, which was certainly 'outside the state', and even sign a 
concordat with the Vatican, something none of his parliamentary 
predecessors had been able to do? He once defined fascism as 
'organized, concentrated, authoritarian democracy on a national 
basis'. 176 Yes: but what was all this authority for} One senses that 
Mussolini was a reluctant fascist because, underneath, he remained a 
Marxist, albeit a heretical one; and to him 'revolution' was meaning- 
less without large-scale expropriation, something the bulk of his 
followers and colleagues did not want. So the fascist Utopia tended 
to vanish round the corner, leaving only the despotism. As late as 
1943, just before the debacle, an article in Critica fascista by the 
young militant Vito Panunzio declared that the regime could still win 
provided it at last brought about the 'fascist revolution'. 177 By then 
Mussolini had been in apparently dictatorial power for more than 
two decades. 

But if Mussolini did not practise fascism, and could not even 
define it with any precision, it was equally mystifying to its op- 
ponents, especially the Marxists. Sophisticated Anglo-Saxon liberals 


could dismiss it as a new kind of mountebank dictatorship, less 
bloodthirsty than Leninism and much less dangerous to property. 
But to the Marxists it was much more serious. By the mid-1 920s 
there were fascist movements all over Europe. One thing they all had 
in common was anti-Communism of the most active kind. They 
fought revolution with revolutionary means and met the Commun- 
ists on the streets with their own weapons. As early as 1923 the 
Bulgarian peasant regime of Aleksandr Stamboliski, which practised 
'agrarian Communism', was ousted by a fascist putsch. The Comin- 
tern, the new international bureau created by the Soviet government 
to spread and co-ordinate Communist activities, called on the 
'workers of the world' to protest against the 'victorious Bulgarian 
fascist clique', thus for the first time recognizing fascism as an 
international phenomenon. But what exactly was it? There was 
nothing specific about it in Marx. It had developed too late for Lenin 
to verbalize it into his march of History. It was unthinkable to 
recognize it for what it actually was — a Marxist heresy, indeed a 
modification of the Leninist heresy itself. Instead it had to be squared 
with Marxist-Leninist historiography and therefore shown to be not 
a portent of the future but a vicious flare-up of the dying bourgeois 
era. Hence after much lucubration an official Soviet definition was 
produced in 1933: fascism was 'the unconcealed terrorist dictator- 
ship of the most reactionary, chauvinistic and imperialistic elements 
of finance capital'. 178 This manifest nonsense was made necessary by 
the failure of 'scientific' Marxism to predict what was the most 
striking political development of the inter-war years. 

In the meantime, Mussolini's Italy was now an empirical fact, just 
like Lenin's Russia, inviting the world to study it, with a view to 
imitation, perhaps, or avoidance. The historian of modern times is 
made constantly aware of the increasingly rapid interaction of 
political events over wide distances. It was as though the develop- 
ment of radio, the international telephone system, mass-circulation 
newspapers and rapid forms of travel was producing a new concep- 
tion of social and political holism corresponding to new scientific 
perceptions of the universe and matter. According to Mach's Princi- 
ple, formulated first at the turn of the century and then reformulated 
as part of Einstein's cosmology, not only does the universe as a whole 
influence local, terrestrial events but local events have an influence, 
however small, on the universe as a whole. Quantum mechanics, 
developed in the 1920s, indicated that the same principle applied at 
the level of micro-quantities. There were no independent units, 
flourishing apart from the rest of the universe. 179 'Splendid isolation' 
was no longer a practicable state policy, as even the United States 
had implicitly admitted in 1917. There were many who welcomed 


this development, and saw the League of Nations as a response to 
what they felt was a welcome new fact of life. But the implications of 
global political holism were frightening as well as uplifting. The 
metaphor of disease was apt. The Black Death of the mid-fourteenth 
century had migrated over the course of more than fifty years and 
there were some areas it had never reached. The influenza virus of 
1918 had enveloped the world in weeks and penetrated almost 
everywhere. The virus of force, terror and totalitarianism might 
prove equally swift and ubiquitous. It had firmly implanted itself in 
Russia. It was now in Italy. 

If Lincoln Steffens could detect a working future even in Lenin's 
Moscow, what might not be discerned in totalitarian Rome? Musso- 
lini could not or would not conjure a new fascist civilization out of 
his cloudy verbal formulae. But what he liked doing and felt able to 
do, and indeed was gifted at doing, was big construction projects. He 
tackled malaria, then the great, debilitating scourge of central and 
southern Italy. 180 The draining of the Pontine Marshes was a 
considerable practical achievement, as well as a symbol of fascist 
energy. Mussolini encouraged Balbo, a keen pilot, to build a large 
aviation industry, which won many international awards. Another 
fascist boss, the Venetian financier Giuseppe Volpi, created a specta- 
cular industrial belt at Mughera and Mestre on the mainland. He 
also, as Minister of Finance, revalued the lira, which became a 
relatively strong currency. 181 Train, postal and phone services all 
markedly improved. There were no strikes. Corruption continued, 
perhaps increased; but it was less blatant and remarked upon. In 
Sicily, the Mafia was not destroyed, but it was effectively driven 
underground. Above all, there was no more violence on the streets. 
Some of these accomplishments were meretricious, others harmful in 
the long run. But taken together they looked impressive, to 
foreigners, to tourists, to many Italians too. No Utopia was emerging 
in Italy, but the contrast with hungry, terrorized Russia was striking. 
To those north of the Alps, who rejected alike the Bolshevism of the 
East and the liberalism of the West, the Italian renaissance seemed to 
offer a third way. 


Waiting for Hitler 

On 10 November 1918 the Lutheran chaplain at the Pasewalk 
Military Hospital in Pomerania summoned the patients to tell them 
that the House of Hohenzollern had fallen: Germany was now a 
republic. The news came like a thunderbolt to the wounded soldiers. 
One of them was Adolf Hitler, a twenty-nine-year-old junior nco. 
He had fought on the Western Front throughout the war, had twice 
distinguished himself in action, and earlier that year had received the 
rare accolade of the Iron Cross First Class. A month before, on 13 
October south of Ypres, he had been temporarily blinded in a British 
mustard gas attack. He had not been able to read the newspapers and 
had dismissed rumours of collapse and revolution as a 'local affair', 
got up by 'a few Jewish youths' who had 'not been at the Front' but 
'in a clap hospital'. Now the aged pastor, tears pouring down his 
face, told them their Kaiser had fled, the war was lost and the Reich 
was throwing itself unconditionally upon the mercy of its enemies. 
The news of the surrender was, as Hitler later wrote, 'the most 
terrible certainty of my life. Everything went black before my eyes. I 
tottered and groped my way back to the dormitory, threw myself on 
my bunk, and dug my burning head into my blanket and pillow. 
Since the day I had stood on my mother's grave, I had not wept .... 
But now I could not help it.' 1 

The shock of defeat to most Germans, especially the soldiers, was 
enormous. It was something no one in the West understood. The 
Germans knew they were retreating on the Western Front. But the 
withdrawal was orderly; the army was intact. And it was not in the 
West that Germany's main anxieties and ambitions lay. Germany 
had fought the war principally from fear of the growing industrial 
and military strength of Russia, a huge, overbearing, tyrannical and 
barbarous neighbour, right on Germany's doorstep and threatening 
to overwhelm her. By the middle of 1918 Germany, despite the 
desperate struggles on the Western Front, had exorcized what to her 



was the principal spectre. Tsarist Russia had been beaten and 
destroyed. Its successor had signed a dictated peace. The Treaty of 
Brest-Litovsk gave Germany all the security she had ever needed. It 
deprived Russia of 70 per cent of her iron and steel capacity, 40 per 
cent of her total industry. It gave Germany everything in European 
Russia she considered of any value: as a member of the German 
government gloated, 'It is in the East that we shall collect the interest 
on our War Bonds.' 2 Indeed it gave more, because it reopened the 
prospect of a vast economic empire in Eastern Europe, a colonization 
of the great plains which had been the aim of the expanding German 
civilization of the Middle Ages. The 'pull of the East' had always 
meant more to average Germans than their belated exercise in African 
colonization or even the Kaiser's bid for commercial and maritime 
supremacy. It was Tsarist Great Russia which had blocked Germany's 
'manifest destiny' to the East. Now that monstrous despotism was at 
last in ruins. The programme of the Teutonic Knights could again be 

On 1 March 1918 Kiev fell and Ludendorff occupied the Ukraine, 
set up a 'Landowners' Republic' under German supervision, and laid 
the foundation of a satellite-colony of the Reich. The Kaiser became 
Duke of Courland, embracing Livonia and Estonia, to be run by their 
small German minorities and tied to Germany's economy. In April 
German troops landed in Finland, another potential satellite. On 7 
May Germany forced a dictated peace on Romania, and there too 
economic colonization proceeded quickly. Ludendorff put troops in 
the Crimea, which was earmarked for a German settlement, and in 
September he had penetrated as far as the Baku oilfields, preparatory 
to a plunge into Transcaucasia, to take up a strategic position on the 
rim of Central Asia. Even rumours of the downfall of the Habsburgs 
and the break-up of Turkey were seen by German geopoliticians as 
opportunities for further plunder and economic penetration, in 
central Europe and the Middle East. In the early autumn of 1918 it 
appeared to them that the war, far from being lost, had in all essentials 
been won - and won overwhelmingly. Indeed Germany might emerge 
from the settlement the equal, in military and economic potential, of 
the United States and the British Empire, the third superpower. 

Some illusions survived even the first, overwhelming shock of 
defeat. Leaving aside the fact that Wilson and Colonel House had 
already secretly accepted the Anglo-French interpretation of the 
'Fourteen Points', the optimistic construction the Germans placed on 
them was totally unwarranted. One south German town welcomed its 
demobilized soldiers with the banner 'Welcome, brave soldiers, your 
work has been done,/God and Wilson will carry it on'. 3 The truth was 
finally brought home to Germany only when the terms of the Treaty 


were published in May 1919. In fact Versailles, for Germany, was 
not really a 'Carthaginian Peace'. Keynes was quite wrong in this 
respect. Austria and Hungary fared much worse. Versailles allowed 
Germany to retain all the essentials of Bismarck's work. Had she 
chosen the path of peace, Germany must inevitably have become, 
over the next two decades, the dominant economic force in the whole 
of central and eastern Europe. 

But Germany's losses have to be seen in the perspective of the 
colossal gains she thought she had secured only a short time before. 
The thought that Tsarist Russia would have imposed infinitely worse 
terms on Germany (very like, no doubt, those dictated in 1945) does 
not seem to have occurred to the Germans. In any case Tsarist Russia 
had been destroyed by German arms! Why, then, was Germany 
being forced in the East to hand over entire German communities to 
the barbarous Slavs, in the Polish Corridor, in East Prussia, and 
above all in Silesia, rich in coal and iron and industry? It was these 
losses which caused the Germans the most grief and anger because 
they struck at their pride: it was, to them, against nature for 
Germans to live under Slav rule. Even the Silesian plebiscite, an 
important concession secured for Germany by Lloyd George, became 
a further source of German anger, for the government never ex- 
plained to the German public that, under the Versailles Treaty, 
division of the province was permitted in accordance with local 
results. The plebiscite on 21 March 1921 gave a 60 per cent majority 
to Germany. But the League awarded some 40 per cent of the 
territory, containing a Polish majority, to Poland, and this portion 
included the most valuable industrial area. The Germans thought 
they had been swindled again; and this time their rage turned against 
the League. 4 

In a sense the Germans had been swindled for many years, but 
chiefly by their own governments, which had never told the country 
the truth about their foreign policy aims and methods. The full truth, 
indeed, did not begin to emerge until 1961 when the great German 
historian Fritz Fischer published his Griff nach der Weltmacht, in 
which he traced the aggressive continuities in Germany's expansive 
foreign and military policy. 5 A long and bitter controversy followed 
among German historians, culminating in the Berlin meeting of the 
German Historical Association in 1964. 6 During this debate, the 
essentials of the case for German war guilt were established beyond 
doubt, and in time accepted even by most of his critics. They are 
worth restating briefly. 

In the second half of the nineteenth century Germany became an 
enormous and highly successful industrial power. This involved 
bringing into existence a vast industrial proletariat, who could not be 


managed like peasants and with whom the German ruling class of 
landowners and military men was unwilling to share power. Bismarck 
created a dual solution to this problem. On the one hand, in the 1880s, 
he expanded the traditional social welfare services of the Prussian 
monarchy into the world's first welfare state. 7 On the other, after his 
expansionary wars were done, he deliberately sought to preserve 
domestic unity by creating largely imaginary foreign threats of 'en- 
circlement', thus enclosing the nation in a homogeneous state of siege 
mentality. Bismarck knew how to manage this artificial nightmare. His 
successors did not. Indeed they came to believe in it themselves, victims 
of a growing irrationalism and dread. By 1 9 1 1 at the latest, Germany's 
ruling group had unleashed a new ethnic nationalism: 'The aim was to 
consolidate the position of the ruling classes with a successful foreign 
policy; indeed it was hoped a war would resolve the growing social 
tensions. By involving the masses in the great struggle those parts of the 
nation that had hitherto stood apart would be integrated into the 
monarchical state.' 8 The object of the 1914 war was to create a new 
European order in which Germany would be dominant. As Bethmann 
Hollweg's secretary, Riezler, described the proposed European eco- 
nomic union, it was 'The European disguise of our will to power'. 9 
Bethmann Hollweg recognized that Britain could not possibly accept 
total German dominance in Europe. Therefore Britain (as well as 
France and Russia) had to be defeated; and that meant Germany 
exercising the role of a world superpower. As Riezler put it, echoing 
Bethmann's thoughts : 'England's tragic error might consist of compell- 
ing us to rally all our strength, to exploit all our potentialities, to drive us 
into world-wide problems, to force upon us - against our will - a desire 
for world domination.' 10 This last formulation was very characteristic 
of the German desire to shift the moral responsibility for its aggression 
onto others. 

If the responsibility for starting the war was shared jointly by the 
military and civilian wings of the German ruling establishment, the 
magnitude of the defeat was the fault of the generals and the 
admirals. Germany ceased to be in any sense a civilian empire on 9 
January 1917 when Bethmann Hollweg surrendered to the demand, 
which he had resisted for three years, to wage unrestricted submarine 
warfare. Thereafter the admirals and Ludendorff were in charge. It 
was their war. They raised the stakes at the gambling table, thus 
making it certain that, when the inevitable crash came, Germany 
would not merely be defeated but broken, bankrupted, shamed and 
humiliated. As Riezler put it: 'We will practically have to accept the 
Diktat. Slavery for a hundred years. The dream about the world 
finished forever. The end of all hubris. The dispersion of Germans 
around the world. The fate of the Jews.' 11 


It is a pity that Keynes could not have been privy to these desperate 
thoughts of a man who was at the very centre of the German 
decision-making machine. He could then have appreciated that the 
so-called 'Carthaginian Peace' was in fact very much more generous 
than Germany's rulers secretly expected. But of course the over- 
whelming mass of the Germans were even more ignorant than 
Keynes. They had been taught, and they believed, that the war had 
been caused principally by Russian expansionism and British com- 
mercial jealousy. For Germany it had been a defensive war of 
survival. The tragedy is that, when the collapse came in 1918, the 
opportunity to tell the truth to the German people was missed. Even 
among the German Socialists, the only ones to admit German 
war-guilt were Kurt Eisner, who was murdered in 1919, Karl 
Kautsky, who had the job of putting the pre-war diplomatic doc- 
uments in order, and Eduard David, who had seen the key papers 
when he was Under-Secretary at the Foreign Ministry immediately 
after the monarchy fell. 12 But none of the really revealing documents 
was published or made accessible. German historians, the best in the 
world, betrayed their profession and deluded themselves. Equally 
important, the chief actors in the tragedy lied or concealed the facts. 
Bethmann Hollweg could have told the truth about the origins of the 
war and the role of the military in losing it. He did not do so, despite 
provocation. Both Tirpitz and Ludendorff savaged him in their 
memoirs. But Bethmann's own account says very little: he feared to 
deepen the already wide divisions in German society. 13 

Not only was the truth not told: it was deliberately concealed 
beneath a myth that the German war-machine had been 'stabbed in 
the back' by civilian defeatism and cowardice. It is, looking back on 
it, extraordinary that this myth should have been accepted. No force 
in Wilhelmine Germany was capable of defying the military, let alone 
stabbing it in the back. Germany was in many ways the most 
militarized society on earth. Even the new industry was regimented 
in a military fashion. The factory-towns grew up around the 
barrack-cities of the Hohenzollern soldier-kings. The continuous 
military drill affected the business classes, and even the early stages 
of the trade union and Social Democratic movements, with their 
profound stress on discipline. Uniforms were everywhere. The Kaiser 
referred contemptuously to ministers, politicians and diplomats as 
'stupid civilians'. To raise their prestige, members of the government 
affected military dress. Bismarck sported the rig of a cavalry general. 
When Bethmann Hollweg first appeared as Chancellor in the Reich- 
stag he was dressed as a major. The Kaiser himself sat at his desk 
perched on a military saddle instead of a chair. 14 The idea of civilians 
somehow overturning this enormous and all-pervasive military struc- 


ture, above all in the middle of the greatest war in history, was 

It was, in fact, the other way round. It was Ludendorff, suddenly 
aware the game was up, and determined to preserve the army intact 
while there was still time, who insisted on an armistice. It was his 
successor, General Wilhelm Groener, who gave the Kaiser his 
marching-orders, telling him the army was going home in good 
order 'but not under the command of Your Majesty, for it stands 
no longer behind Your Majesty'. 15 And it was the army, having 
helped to engineer the war, having raised the stakes and ensured 
that the defeat was calamitous, which then slipped out of its 
responsibilities and handed back authority to the civilians. They 
were left with the task and the odium of arranging the armistice 
and signing the peace, while the generals prepared their stab-in-the- 
back exculpation. 

Thus, by a curious piece of national myopia, containing elements 
of self-deception, the Germans exonerated those who had got the 
country into the fearful mess in which it found itself. The Allies 
dropped their notion of war-crimes tribunals. They even backed 
down on extraditing German officers known to have broken The 
Hague Convention. These men were released to appear in German 
courts where they received ridiculously small sentences, and were 
then allowed to escape, returning to their homes as heroes. 

Instead, it was the Socialists and the politicians of the Centre who 
got the blame for Germany's troubles. The Socialists had been the 
biggest party in the Reichstag before the war, but they were never 
admitted to government; and because parliament had inadequate 
control over finance - the central weakness of pre-war German 
'democracy' - they could do nothing effective to stop German 
imperialism, though they voted against it. They were the only party 
to oppose Germany's annexations in Russia in early 1918. When 
the war ended, they briefly held power at last, but merely as the 
legal receivers of a bankrupt empire, whose sins they were made to 
bear. When the Centre politicians took over, as they soon did, they 
too were tainted with defeat, surrender, of being 'the men of the 

To a greater or lesser degree, indeed, the stigma of Versailles was 
attached to all the politicians of the new Republic, and even to the 
notion of the Republic itself, and so to the whole idea of par- 
liamentary democracy. For the first time the Germans had the 
chance to run themselves. Everyone over twenty, male and female, 
had the vote. Elections to all public bodies were henceforth equal, 
secret, direct and according to proportional representation. The 
censorship was abolished. Rights of assembly were guaranteed. 


Trade unions were recognized by employers. The eight-hour day was 
made mandatory. 16 When the first elections were held in January 
1919, three-quarters of those who took part in the 80 per cent poll 
favoured a republic. 

The new Weimar constitution was drawn up under the guidance of 
the great sociologist Max Weber. It gave parliament full financial 
sovereignty for the first time. It was supposed to embody all the best 
features of the American constitution. But it had one serious 
weakness. The President, elected for a seven-year term, was not the 
head of government: that was the Chancellor, a party figure respon- 
sible to parliament. But the President, under Article 48, was endowed 
with emergency powers when parliament was not in session. From 
1923 onwards this article was pervertedly invoked whenever par- 
liament was deadlocked. And parliament was often deadlocked, 
because proportional representation prevented the development of a 
two-party system and absolute majorities. To many Germans, who 
had been brought up on the notion that Germany and the Germans 
were a metaphysical, organic unity, the spectacle of a divided, 
jammed parliament was unnatural. The argument that parliament 
was the forum in which quite genuine and unavoidable conflicts of 
interest were peacefully resolved was alien to them, unacceptable. 
Instead they saw the Reichstag as a mere theatre for the enactment of 
'the game of the parties', while the real, eternal, organic and 
honourable Germany was embodied in the person of the President 
and Article 48. This constitutional cleavage was apparent even under 
the first president, the Socialist Friedrich Ebert. He preferred to use 
his power rather than force parliamentarians into the habit of 
settling their differences. It became far worse when Field-Marshal 
Hindenburg replaced him. 

Although Ludendorff had run the war, Hindenburg had been the 
nominal war-lord and public hero. In 1916 a gigantic wooden image 
had been made of him, to symbolize German determination to win. If 
you bought a War Bond you were allowed to knock a nail into it. 
About 100,000 nails were thus hammered into the colossus. 
Immediately the war was over the statue was broken up for 
firewood, as though to symbolize the disappearance of the military 
and the reign of the civilians. It was they, Weimar, and especially 
parliament, which were identified with the Treaty and all the 
post-war difficulties and shame. When the wooden titan returned as 
President, he personified not only wartime heroism and German 
unity, as opposed to party disunity, but the anti-republican 
counter-principle embedded in the Weimar Constitution itself. And it 
was under Hindenburg that presidential prerogative was used to 
appoint and dismiss chancellors and dissolve the Reichstag, leading 


in the last years to the virtual suspension of parliamentary govern- 
ment. Hitler climaxed the process by exploiting the article to lay the 
foundations of his dictatorship even before parliament disappeared 
in April 1933. 

The cleavage within the constitution might not have mattered so 
much had it not reflected a much deeper division in German 
society, and indeed in German minds. I call this the East— West 
division, and it is one of the central themes of modern times, in so 
far as they have been influenced by Germany's destiny. The princi- 
pal characteristic of the pre-war German regime of princes, generals 
and landowners, the law-professors who endowed it with academic 
legitimacy, and the Lutheran pastors who gave it moral authority, 
was illiberalism. This ruling caste hated the West with passionate 
loathing, both for its liberal ideas and for the gross materialism and 
lack of spirituality which (in their view) those ideas embodied. They 
wanted to keep Germany 'pure' of the West, and this was one 
motive for their plans to resume the medieval conquest and set- 
tlement of the East, carving out a continental empire for Germany 
which would make her independent of the Anglo-Saxon world 
system. These Easterners drew a fundamental distinction between 
'civilization', which they defined as rootless, cosmopolitan, immo- 
ral, un-German, Western, materialistic and racially defiled; and 
'culture', which was pure, national, German, spiritual and authen- 
tic. 17 Civilization pulled Germany to the West, culture to the East. 
The real Germany was not part of international civilization but a 
national race-culture of its own. When Germany responded to the 
pull of the West, it met disaster; when it pursued its destiny in the 
East, it fulfilled itself. 

In point of fact, it was the Easterners who had ruled Germany 
throughout, who had created the war-anxiety, got Germany into 
war, and then lost it. In the minds of most Germans, however, the 
'stab-in-the-back' mythology refuted this factual analysis because it 
attributed the loss of the war to the defeatism and treachery of the 
Westerners, who had then signed the armistice, accepted the disas- 
trous peace, introduced the Republic and enthroned 'the rule of the 
parties'. It was thus the Westerners who were responsible for all 
Germany's misfortunes in the post-war world, as was only logical, 
for they were the puppets or paid agents of the politicians of the West 
in Paris and London, and of the international financial community in 
Wall Street and the City. Their outpost in Germany was the 
parliament in Weimar. But authentic German culture still had its 
redoubt within the Republic, in the person of President Hindenburg, 
an Easterner par excellence, and in the authority of Article 48. In 
time, that vital bridgehead could be extended. 


For the moment, however, the Westerners were triumphant. 
Weimar was a 'Western' republic. It stood for civilization rather than 
culture: civilization was in office, culture in opposition. It is no 
coincidence, either, that German civilization reached its gaudiest 
flowering during the 1920s, when Germany, for a brief period, 
became the world-centre of ideas and art. This triumph had been 
building up for a long time. Germany was by far the best-educated 
nation in the world - as long ago as the late eighteenth century it had 
passed the 50 per cent literacy mark. During the nineteenth century it 
had progressively established a system of higher education which for 
thoroughness and diversity of scholarship was without equal. There 
were world-famous universities at Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, 
Gottingen, Marburg, Freiburg, Heidelberg and Frankfurt. The Ger- 
man liberal intelligentsia had opted out of public and political life in 
the 1860s, leaving the field to Bismarck and his successors. But it had 
not emigrated; indeed, it had spread itself, and when it began to 
resurface just before the Great War, and took command in 1918, 
what was most striking about it was its polycentral strength. 

Of course Berlin, with its 4 million population, held the primacy. 
But, unlike Paris, it did not drain all the country's intellectual and 
artistic energies into itself. While Berlin had its Alexanderplatz and 
Kurfurstendamm, there were plenty of other cultural magnets: the 
Bruehl in Dresden, the Jungfernsteg in Hamburg, the Schweidnitzter- 
strasse in Breslau or the Kaiserstrasse in Frankfurt. The centre of 
architectural experiment, the famous Bauhaus, was in Weimar, later 
moving to Dessau. The most important centre of art studies, the 
Warburg Institute, was in Hamburg. Dresden had one of the finest 
art galleries in the world as well as a leading European opera house, 
under Fritz Busch, where two of Richard Strauss's operas had their 
first performance. Munich had a score of theatres, as well as another 
great gallery; it was the home of Simplicissimus, the leading satirical 
magazine, and of Thomas Mann, the leading novelist. Frankfurter 
Zeitung was Germany's best newspaper, and Frankfurt was a leading 
theatrical and operatic centre (as was Munich); and other cities, 
such as Nuremberg, Darmstadt, Leipzig and Diisseldorf, saw the first 
performances of some of the most important plays of the Twenties. 18 

What particularly distinguished Berlin was its theatre, by far the 
world's richest in the 1920s, with a strongly political tone. Its 
pre-eminence had begun before the war, with Max Reinhardt's reign 
at the Deutsche Theater, but in 1918 republicanism took over 
completely. Some playwrights were committed revolutionaries, like 
Friedrich Wolf and Ernst Toller, who worked for Erwin Piscator's 
'Proletarian Theatre', for which George Grosz designed scenery. 
Bertholt Brecht, whose play Drums in the Night was first staged in 


Berlin in 1922, when he was twenty-four, wrote political allegories. 
He was attracted to Communism by its violence, as he was to 
American gangsterism, and his friend Arnolt Bronnen to fascism; 
Brecht designed his own 'uniform', the first of the Leftist outfits - 
leather cap, steel-rimmed glasses, leather coat. When The 
Threepenny Opera, which he wrote with the composer Kurt Weill, 
was put on in 1928 it set an all-time record for an opera by receiving 
over 4,000 performances throughout Europe in a single year. 1 ^ But 
the bulk of the Berlin successes were written by liberal sophisticates, 
more notable for being 'daring', pessimistic, problematical, above all 
'disturbing', than directly political: men like Georg Kaiser, Carl 
Sternheim, Arthur Schnitzler, Walter Hasenclever, Ferdinand Bruck- 
ner and Ferenc Molnar. 20 Sometimes the 'cultural Right' went for a 
particular play, as when it tried to disrupt the first night of Der 
frohliche Weinberg by Carl Zuckmayer (who also wrote the script 
for The Blue Angel). But it was really the theatre as a whole to which 
conservatives objected, for there were no right-wing or nationalist 
plays whatever put on in Berlin. After watching a Gerhart Haupt- 
mann play, a German prefect of police summed up the reaction of 
Kw/tar-Germany: 'The whole trend ought to be liquidated.' 21 

Berlin was also the world-capital in the related fields of opera and 
film. It was crowded with first-class directors, impresarios, conduc- 
tors and producers: Reinhardt, Leopold Jessner, Max Ophuls, Victor 
Barnowsky, Otto Klemperer, Bruno Walter, Leo Blech, Joseph von 
Sternberg {The Blue Angel), Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder {Emil and 
the Detectives), Fritz Lang {Metropolis). In designing and making 
scenery and costumes, lighting-effects, the standards of orchestral 
playing and choral singing, in sheer attention to detail, Berlin had no 
rivals anywhere. When Wozzeck, a new opera written by Arnold 
Schoenberg's gifted pupil Alban Berg, received its premiere at the 
Berlin State Opera in 1925, the conductor Erich Kleiber insisted on 
no less than 130 rehearsals. 22 The 1929 Berlin Music Festival 
featured Richard Strauss, Bruno Walter, Furtwangler, George Szell, 
Klemperer, Toscanini, Gigli, Casals, Cortot and Thibaud. 23 Against 
this background of talent, craftsmanship and expertise, Germany was 
able to develop the world's leading film industry, producing more 
films in the 1920s than the rest of Europe put together; 646 in the 
year 1922 alone. 24 

Even more remarkable was Germany's success in the visual arts. In 
1918 Walter Gropius became director of the Weimar Arts and Crafts 
School and began to put into practice his theory of Gesamtkunst- 
werk, or total work of art, a term first used by Wagner but applied 
here, on the analogy of a medieval cathedral, to the integrated use of 
painting, architecture, furniture, glass and metal work, sculpture, 


jewellery and fabrics. The notion sprang from the Gothic revival but 
the atmosphere at the Bauhaus was dictated by the functional use of 
the latest materials and construction techniques. As one of the 
teachers, Lothar Schreyer, put it, 'We felt that we were literally 
building a pew world.' It attracted many fine talents: Klee, Kan- 
dinsky, Mies van der Rohe, Oskar Schlemmer, Hannes Meyer; 
Bartok, Hindemith, Stravinsky were among the visiting artists. 25 

Indeed, it was the institutionalization of modernism which ap- 
peared so novel in Weimar and gave it its peculiar strength. Over the 
whole range of the arts, Weimar was less hostile to modernism than 
any other society or political system. The leading German museums 
began to buy modern paintings and sculpture, just as the opera 
houses patronized atonality. Otto Dix was made an art-professor in 
Berlin, Klee in Diisseldorf, Kokoschka in Dresden. Equally important 
in making modernism acceptable was the work of the art theorists 
and historians, like Carl Einstein, W.R.Worringer and Max Dvorak, 
who placed Abstraction and Expressionism in the context of the 
European art tradition. As a result, Berlin rivalled and even sur- 
passed Paris as an exhibition centre for modern painting. The gallery 
run by Herwath Walden and his wife Else Lasker-Schuler, who also 
published the magazine Der Sturm, was more enterprising than any 
on the Left Bank, showing Leger, Chagall, Klee, Kurt Schwitters, 
Moholy-Nagy and Campendonck. The Neue Sachlichkeit, or New 
Realism, which displaced the dying Expressionism in 1923, attracted 
more interest than the Paris movements. 26 

There was, in fact, a modernistic cultural paramountcy in Weimar 
Germany. This in itself was highly provocative to the Easterners. 
They called it Kulturbolschewismus. Throughout the war the Ger- 
man ultra-patriotic press had warned that defeat would bring the 
triumph of Western 'decadent' art, literature and philosophy, as 
though Lloyd George and Clemenceau could not wait to get to Berlin 
to ram Cubism down German throats. Now it had actually hap- 
pened! Weimar was the great battleground in which modernism and 
traditionalism fought for supremacy in Europe and the world, 
because in Weimar the new had the institutions, or some of them, on 
its side. The law, too: the Weimar censorship law, though still strict, 
was probably the least repressive in Europe. Films like The Blue 
Angel could not be shown in Paris. Stage and night-club shows in 
Berlin were the least inhibited of any major capital. Plays, novels and 
even paintings touched on such themes as homosexuality, sado- 
masochism, transvestism and incest; and it was in Germany that 
Freud's writings were most fully absorbed by the intelligentsia and 
penetrated the widest range of artistic expression. 

The Left intelligentsia often sought deliberately to incite 'right- 


thinking' Germany to fury. They had been smothered so long 
beneath the conventional wisdom of army, church, court and 
academia; now it was the turn of the outsiders who had, in a curious 
and quite unprecedented way, become the insiders of Weimar 
society. In the Weltbiihne, the smartest and most telling of the new 
journals, sexual freedom and pacifism were exalted, the army, the 
state, the university, the Church and, above all, the comfortable, 
industrious middle classes, were savaged and ridiculed. It featured 
the writings of Kurt Tucholsky, a satirist whom many compared to 
Heine, and whose acid pen jabbed more frequently and successfully 
beneath the skin of the Easterners than any other writer — the verbal 
equivalent of George Grosz's fearsome caricatures. He wrote: 'There 
is no secret of the German Army I would not hand over readily to a 
foreign power.' 27 Tucholsky was wonderfully gifted. He intended to 
give pain, to arouse hatred and fury. He succeeded. 

This cultural trench warfare, waged without reference to any 
Geneva Convention, merciless in its spite, animosity and cruelty, was 
calculated to arouse the atavism of the Easterners. Their approach to 
the public realm was paranoid. The paranoia had to some extent 
been deliberately manufactured by Bismarck. But long before 1914 it 
had become instinctive and habitual, with the Reich the object of 
world-wide conspiracies, political, economic, military and cultural. 
The catastrophe of the war, far from exorcizing the fantasies, seemed 
to confirm them. And now here was Germany, noble, helpless and 
suffering, stricken in defeat and jeeringly tormented by cosmopolitan 
riff-raff who appeared to control all access to the platforms of the 
arts and, by secret conspiracy, were systematically replacing German 
Kultur by their own, accursed Zivilisation. The grievance was 
increasingly resented throughout the 1920s and strikingly summed 
up in a book called Kurfiirstendamm written by Friedrich Hussong, 
and published a few weeks after the Nazis came to power: 

A miracle has taken place. They are no longer here .... They claimed they 
were the German Geist, German culture, the German present and future. 
They represented Germany to the world, they spoke in its name .... 
Everything else was mistaken, inferior, regrettable kitsch, odious philistin- 
ism .... They always sat in the front row. They awarded knighthoods of the 
spirit and of Europeanism. What they did not permit did not exist .... They 
'made' themselves and others. Whoever served them was sure to succeed. 
He appeared on their stages, wrote in their journals, was advertised all over 
the world; his commodity was recommended whether it was cheese or 
relativity, powder or Zeittheater, patent medicines or human rights, demo- 
cracy or bolshevism, propaganda for abortion or against the legal system, 
rotten Negro music or dancing in the nude. In brief, there never was a more 


impudent dictatorship than that of the democratic intelligentsia and the 
Zwilisations-literaten. u 

Of course underlying and reinforcing the paranoia was the belief 
that Weimar culture was inspired and controlled by Jews. Indeed, 
was not the entire regime a Judenrepublik} There was very little basis 
for this last doxology, resting as it did on the contradictory theories 
that Jews dominated both Bolshevism and the international capitalist 
network. The Jews, it is true, had been prominent in the first 
Communist movements. But in Russia they lost ground steadily once 
the Bolsheviks came to power, and by 1925 the regime was already 
anti-Semitic. In Germany also the Jews, though instrumental in 
creating the Communist Party (kpd), were quickly weeded out once 
it was organized as a mass party. By the 1932 elections, when it put 
up 500 candidates, not one was Jewish. 29 Nor, at the other end of the 
spectrum, were the Jews particularly important in German finance 
and industry. The belief rested on the mysterious connection between 
Bismarck and his financial adviser, Gerson von Bleichroder, the Jew 
who organized the Rothschilds and other banking houses to provide 
the finance for Germany's wars. 30 But in the 1920s Jews were rarely 
involved in government finance. Jewish businessmen kept out of 
politics. Big business was represented by Alfred Hugenberg and the 
German Nationalist People's Party, which was anti-Semitic. Jews 
were very active at the foundation of Weimar, but after 1920 one of 
the few Jews to hold high office was Walther Rathenau and he was 
murdered two years later. 

In culture however it was a different matter. There is nothing more 
galling than a cultural tyranny, real or imaginary, and in Weimar 
culture 'they' could plausibly be identified with the Jews. The most 
hated of them, Tucholsky, was a Jew. So were other important critics 
and opinion formers, like Maximilian Harden, Theodor Wolff, 
Theodor Lessing, Ernst Bloch and Felix Salten. Nearly all the best 
film-directors were Jewish, and about half the most successful 
playwrights, such as Sternheim and Schnitzler. The Jews were 
dominant in light entertainment and still more in theatre criticism, a 
very sore point among the Easterners. There were many brilliant and 
much publicized Jewish performers: Elizabeth Bergner, Erna Sack, 
Peter Lorre, Richard Tauber, Conrad Veidt and Fritz Kortner, for 
instance. Jews owned important newspapers, such as Frankfurt's 
Zeitung, the Berliner Tageblatt and the Vossische Zeitung. They ran 
the most influential art galleries. They were particularly strong in 
publishing, which (next to big city department stores) was probably 
the area of commerce in which Jews came closest to predominance. 
The best liberal publishers, such as Malik Verlag, Kurt Wolff, the 


Cassirers, Georg Bondi, Erich Reiss and S.Fischer, were owned or run 
by Jews. There were a number of prominent and highly successful 
Jewish novelists: Hermann Broch, Alfred Doblin, Franz Werfel, 
Arnold Zweig, Vicki Baum, Lion Feuchtwanger, Bruno Frank, 
Alfred Neumann and Ernst Weiss, as well as Franz Kafka, whom the 
intelligentsia rated alongside Proust and Joyce and who was an 
object of peculiar detestation among the Easterners. In every depart- 
ment of the arts, be it architecture, sculpture, painting or music, 
where change had been most sudden and repugnant to conservative 
tastes, Jews had been active in the transformation, though rarely in 
control. The one exception, perhaps, was music, where Schoenberg 
was accused of 'assassinating' the German tradition; but even here, 
his far more successful and innovatory pupil, Berg, was an Aryan 
Catholic. However, it is undoubtedly true to say that Weimar culture 
would have been quite different, and infinitely poorer, without its 
Jewish element, and there was certainly enough evidence to make a 
theory of Jewish cultural conspiracy seem plausible. 31 

This was the principal reason why anti-Semitism made such 
astonishing headway in Weimar Germany. Until the Republic, 
anti-Semitism was not a disease to which Germany was thought to be 
especially prone. Russia was the land of the pogrom; Paris was the 
city of the anti-Semitic intelligentsia. Anti-Semitism seems to have 
made its appearance in Germany in the 1870s and 1880s, at a time 
when the determinist type of social philosopher was using Darwin's 
principle of Natural Selection to evolve 'laws' to explain the colossal 
changes brought about by industrialism, the rise of megalopolis and 
the alienation of huge, rootless proletariats. Christianity was content 
with a solitary hate-figure to explain evil: Satan. But modern secular 
faiths needed human devils, and whole categories of them. The 
enemy, to be plausible, had to be an entire class or race. 

Marx's invention of the 'bourgeoisie' was the most comprehensive 
of these hate-theories and it has continued to provide a foundation 
for all paranoid revolutionary movements, whether fascist- 
nationalist or Communist-internationalist. Modern theoretical anti- 
Semitism was a derivative of Marxism, involving a selection (for 
reasons of national, political or economic convenience) of a particu- 
lar section of the bourgeoisie as the subject of attack. It was a more 
obviously emotional matter than analysis purely by class, which is 
why Lenin used the slogan that 'Anti-Semitism is the socialism 
of fools'. But in terms of rationality there was little to choose 
between the two. Lenin was saying, in effect, that it was the entire 
bourgeoisie, not just Jewry, which was to blame for the ills of 
mankind. And it is significant that all Marxist regimes, based as they 
are on paranoid explanations of human behaviour, degenerate 


sooner or later into anti-Semitism. The new anti-Semitism, in short, 
was part of the sinister drift away from the apportionment of 
individual responsibility towards the notion of collective guilt — the 
revival, in modern guise, of one of the most primitive and barbarous, 
even bestial, of instincts. It is very curious that, when the new 
anti-Semitism made its appearance in Germany, among those who 
attacked it was Nietzsche, always on the lookout for secular, 
pseudo-rational substitutes for the genuine religious impulse. He 
denounced 'these latest speculators in idealism, the anti-Semites . . . 
who endeavour to stir up all the bovine elements of the nation by a 
misuse of that cheapest of propaganda tricks, a moral attitude.' 32 

But if modern anti-Semitism was by no means a specifically German 
phenomenon, there were powerful forces which favoured its growth 
there. The modern German nation was, in one sense, the creation of 
Prussian militarism. In another, it was the national expression of the 
German romantic movement, with its stress upon the Volk, its 
mythology and its natural setting in the German landscape, especially 
its dark, mysterious forests. The German Volk movement dated from 
Napoleonic times and was burning 'alien' and 'foreign' books, which 
corrupted ' Volk culture', as early as 1817. Indeed it was from the Volk 
movement that Marx took his concept of 'alienation' in industrial 
capitalism. A Volk had a soul, which was derived from its natural 
habitat. As the historical novelist Otto Gemlin put it, in an article in Die 
Tat, organ of the Vo/^-romantic movement, 'For each people and each 
race, the countryside becomes its own peculiar landscape'. 33 If the 
landscape was destroyed, or the Volk divorced from it, the soul dies. 
The Jews were not a Volk because they had lost their soul: they lacked 
'rootedness'. This contrast was worked out with great ingenuity by a 
Bavarian professor of antiquities, Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl, in a series of 
volumes called Land und Leute {Places and People), published in the 
1850s and 1860s. 34 The true basis of the Volk was the peasant. There 
could of course be workers, but they had to be 'artisans', organized in 
local guilds. The proletariat, on the other hand, was the creation of the 
Jews. Having no landscape of their own, they destroyed that of others, 
causing millions of people to be uprooted and herded into giant cities, 
the nearest they possessed to a 'landscape' of their own. 'The 
dominance of the big city', wrote Riehl, 'will be the equivalent to the 
dominance of the proletariat' ; moreover, the big cities would link hands 
across the world, forming a 'world bourgeois' and a 'world proletariat' 
conspiring to destroy everything that had a soul, was 'natural', 
especially the German landscape and its peasantry. 35 

The Volk movement spawned a crop of anti-Semitic 'peasant' 
novels, of which the most notorious was Herman Lons's Der 
Wehrwolf (1910), set in the Thirty Years' War, and showing the 


peasants turning on their oppressors from the towns like wolves: 
'What meaning does civilization have? A thin veneer beneath which 
nature courses, waiting until a crack appears and it can burst into the 
open.' 'Cities are the tomb of Germanism.' 'Berlin is the domain of 
the Jews.' Jews functioned among the peasants as money-lenders, 
cattle-dealers and middlemen, and the first organized political anti- 
Semitism surfaced in the peasant parties and the Bund der Land- 
wirte, or Farmers' Union. Hitler was an avid reader of 'peasant 
novels', especially the works of Dieter Eckhart, who adapted Peer 
Gynt into German, and of Wilhelm von Polenz, who also identified 
the Jews with the cruelty and alienation of modern industrial society. 

German anti-Semitism, in fact, was to a large extent a 'back to the 
countryside' movement. There were special Volk schools, which 
stressed open-air life. 'Mountain theatres', shaped from natural 
amphitheatres, were built in the Harz Mountains and elsewhere, for 
dramatized 'Volk rites' and other spectacles, an activity the Nazis 
later adopted on a huge scale and with great panache. The first youth 
movements, especially the highly successful Wandervogel, strum- 
ming guitars and hiking through the countryside, took on an 
anti-Semitic coloration, especially when they invaded the schools 
and universities. The 'garden city' movement in Germany was led by 
a violent anti-Semite, Theodor Fritsch, who published the Antisem- 
itic Catechism, which went through forty editions, 1887-1936, and 
who was referred to by the Nazis as Der Altmeister, the master- 
teacher. Even the sunbathing movement, under the impulse of Aryan 
and Nordic symbols, acquired an anti-Semitic flavour. 36 Indeed in 
1920s Germany there were two distinct types of nudism: 'Jewish' 
nudism, symbolized by the black dancer Josephine Baker, which was 
heterosexual, commercial, cosmopolitan, erotic and immoral; and 
anti-Semitic nudism, which was German, Volkisch, Nordic, non- 
sexual (sometimes homosexual), pure and virtuous. 37 

It is, indeed, impossible to list all the varieties of ingredients which, 
from the 1880s and 1890s onwards, were stirred into the poisonous 
brew of German anti-Semitism. Unlike Marxism, which was essen- 
tially a quasi-religious movement, German anti-Semitism was a 
cultural and artistic phenomenon, a form of romanticism. It was 
Eugen Diederichs, the publisher of Die Tat from 1912, who coined 
the phrase 'the new romanticism', the answer to Jewish Expression- 
ism. He published Der Wehrwolf, and at his house in Jena, sur- 
rounded by intellectuals from the Youth Movement, he wore 
zebra-striped trousers and a turban and launched the saying 'Demo- 
cracy is a civilization, while aristocracy equals culture.' He also 
contrived to transform Nietzsche into an anti-Semitic hero. Other 
audacious acts of literary theft were perpetrated. Tacitus' Germania 


was turned into a seminal Volkisch text; Darwin's works were 
tortured into a 'scientific' justification for race 'laws', just as Marx 
had plundered them for class 'laws'. But there were plenty of genuine 
mentors too. Paul de Lagarde preached a Germanistic religion 
stripped of Christianity because it had been Judaized by St Paul, 'the 
Rabbi'. Julius Langbehn taught that assimilated Jews were 'a pest 
and a cholera', who poisoned the artistic creativity of the Volk: they 
should be exterminated, or reduced to slavery along with other 
'lower' races. 38 Both Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Eugen 
Diihring stressed the necessary 'barbarism' or Gothic element in 
German self-defence against Jewish decadence and the importance of 
the 'purity' and idealism of the Nordic pantheon. Chamberlain, 
whom Hitler was to visit on his deathbed to kiss his hands in 1927, 
argued that God flourished in the German and the Devil in the 
Jewish race, the polarities of Good and Evil. The Teutons had 
inherited Greek aristocratic ideals and Roman love of justice and 
added their own heroism and fortitude. Thus it was their role to fight 
and destroy the only other race, the Jews, which had an equal purity 
and will to power. So the Jew was not a figure of low comedy but a 
mortal, implacable enemy: the Germans should wrest all the power 
of modern technology and industry from the Jews, in order to 
destroy them totally. 39 Some of the German racial theorists were 
Marxists, like Ludwig Woltmann, who transformed the Marxist 
class-struggle into a world race-struggle and advocated the arousal of 
the masses by oratory and propaganda to mobilize the Germans into 
the conquests needed to ensure their survival and proliferation as a 
race: 'The German race has been selected to dominate the earth.' 

By the 1920s, in brief, any political leader in Germany who wished 
to make anti-Semitism an agent in his 'will to power' could assemble 
his campaign from an enormous selection of slogans, ideas and 
fantasies, which had accumulated over more than half a century. The 
Versailles Treaty itself gave the controversy new life by driving into 
Germany a great wave of frightened Jews from Russia, Poland and 
Germany's surrendered territories. Thus it became an urgent 'prob- 
lem', demanding 'solutions'. They were not wanting either. There 
were proposals for double-taxation for Jews; isolation or apartheid; 
a return to the ghetto system; special laws, with hanging for Jews 
who broke them; an absolute prohibition of inter-marriage between 
Aryan Germans and Jews. A 1918 best-seller was Artur Dinter's Die 
Siinde wider das Blut {Sins Against the Blood), describing how rich 
Jews violated the racial purity of an Aryan woman. Calls for the 
extermination of the Jews became frequent and popular, and anti- 
Semitic pamphlets circulated in millions. There were many violent 
incidents but when, in 1919, the Bavarian police asked for advice on 


how to cope with anti-Semitism, Berlin replied there was no remedy 
since 'it has its roots in the difference of race which divides the 
Israelitic tribe from our Volk\ 40 

The Jews tried everything to combat the poison. Some brought up 
their children to be artisans or farmers. They enlisted in the army. 
They attempted ultra-assimilation. A Jewish poet, Ernst Lissauer, 
wrote the notorious 'Hate England' hymn. They went to the other 
extreme and tried Zionism. Or they formled militant Jewish organiza- 
tions, student leagues, duelling clubs. But each policy raised more 
difficulties than it removed, for anti-Semitism was protean, hydra- 
headed and impervious to logic or evidence. As Jakob Wassermann 
put it: 'Vain to seek obscurity. They say: the coward, he is creeping 
into hiding, driven by his evil conscience. Vain to go among them 
and offer them one's hand. They say: why does he take such liberties 
with his Jewish pushfulness? Vain to keep faith with them as a 
comrade in arms or a fellow-citizen. They say: he is Proteus, he can 
assume any shape or form. Vain to help them strip off the chains of 
slavery. They say: no doubt he found it profitable. Vain to counter- 
act the poison.' 41 Mortitz Goldstein argued that it was useless to 
expose the baselessness of anti-Semitic 'evidence': 'What would be 
gained? The knowledge that their hatred is genuine. When all 
calumnies have been refuted, all distortions rectified, all false notions 
about us rejected, antipathy will remain as something irrefutable.' 42 

Germany's defeat in 1918 was bound to unleash a quest for 
scapegoats, alien treachery in the midst of the Volk. Even without 
collateral evidence, the Jews, the embodiment of Westernizing 'civili- 
zation', were automatically cast for the role. But there was evidence 
as well! The influx of Jews in the immediate post-war period was a 
fresh dilution of the Volk, presaging a further assault on its martyred 
culture. And Weimar itself, did it not provide daily proof, in 
parliament, on the stage, in the new cinemas, in the bookshops, in 
the magazines and newspapers and art galleries, everywhere an 
ordinary, bewildered German turned, that this cosmopolitan, cor- 
rupting and ubiquitous conspiracy was taking over the Reich? What 
possible doubt could there be that a crisis was at hand, demanding 
extreme solutions? 

It was at this point that the notion of a violent resolution of the 
conflict between culture and civilization began to take a real grip on 
the minds of some Germans. Here, once again, the fatal act of Lenin, 
in beginning the cycle of political violence in 1917, made its morbid 
contribution. Anti-Semitism had always presented itself as defensive. 
Now, its proposals to use violence, even on a gigantic scale, could be 
justified as defensive. For it was generally believed, not only in 
Germany but throughout Central and Western Europe, that Bolshev- 


ism was Jewish-inspired and led, and that Jews were in control of 
Communist Parties, and directed Red revolutions and risings wherever 
they occurred. Trotsky, the most ferocious of the Bolsheviks, who 
actually commanded the Petrograd putsch, was undoubtedly a Jew; so 
were a few other Russian leaders. Jews had been prominent in the 
Spartacist rising in Berlin, in the Munich Soviet government, and in the 
abortive risings in other German cities. Imagination rushed in where 
facts were hard to get. Thus, Lenin's real name was Issachar 
Zederblum. The Hungarian Red Revolution was directed not by Bela 
Kun but by a Jew called Cohn. Lenin's Red Terror was a priceless gift to 
the anti-Semitic extremists, particularly since most of its countless 
victims were peasants and the most rabid and outspoken of the Cheka 
terrorizers was the Latvian Jew Latsis. Munich now became the 
anti-Semitic capital of Germany, because it had endured the Bolshevist- 
Jewish terror of Kurt Eisner and his gang. The Munchener Beobachter, 
from which the Nazi Volkische Beobachter later evolved, specialized in 
Red atrocity stories, such as Kun or Cohn's crucifixion of priests, his use 
of a 'mobile guillotine' and so on. And many of the news items reported 
from Russia were, of course, perfectly true. They formed a solid plinth 
on which a flaming monument of fantasy could be set up. Hitler was 
soon to make highly effective use of the Red Terror fear, insisting, time 
and again, that the Communists had already killed 30 million people. 
The fact that he had added a nought in no way removed the reality of 
those first, terrible digits. He presented his National Socialist militancy 
as a protective response and a preemptive strike. It was 'prepared to 
oppose all terrorism on the part of the Marxists with tenfold greater 
terrorism'. 43 And in that 'greater terrorism' the Jews would be hunted 
down not as innocent victims but as actual or potential terrorists 

The syphilis of anti-Semitism, which was moving towards its tertiary 
stage in the Weimar epoch, was not the only weakness of the German 
body politic. The German state was a huge creature with a small and 
limited brain. The Easterners, following the example of Bismarck, 
grafted onto the Prussian military state a welfare state which provided 
workers with social insurance and health-care as of right and by law. As 
against the Western liberal notion of freedom of choice and private 
provision based on high wages, it imposed the paternalistic alternative 
of compulsory and universal security. The state was nursemaid as well 
as sergeant-major. It was a towering shadow over the lives of ordinary 
people and their relationship towards it was one of dependence and 
docility. The German industrialists strongly approved of this notion of 
the state as guardian, watching over with firm but benevolent solicitude 
the lives of its citizens. 44 The philosophy was Platonic; the result 
corporatist. The German Social Democrats did nothing to arrest this 


totalitarian drift when they came briefly to power in 1918; quite the 
contrary. They reinforced it. The Weimar Republic opened windows 
but it did not encourage the citizen to venture outside the penumbra 
of state custody. 

Who was in charge of this large and masterful apparatus, now that 
the Easterners were in opposition? The answer was: nobody. The 
bureaucrats were trained on Prussian lines. They followed the rules 
and when in doubt waited for orders. The architects of the Weimar 
Republic made no attempt to change this pattern and encourage civil 
servants to develop a sense of moral autonomy. Presumably they 
feared that the officials of the new regime might be tempted to 
disobey their new parliamentary masters. At all events they were 
exhorted to regard obedience as the supreme virtue. In a famous 
lecture given in 1919, Max Weber insisted: The honour of the civil 
servant is vested in his ability to execute conscientiously the order of 
superior authorities.' Only the politician had the right and duty to 
exercise personal responsibility. 45 It would be difficult to conceive of 
worse advice to offer to German mandarins. Naturally, it was 
followed, right to the bitter end in 1945. 

The moral abdication of the bureaucrats might not have mattered 
so much if the politicians had followed the other half of Weber's 
counsel. But the parliamentarians never provided the vigorous and 
self-confident leadership needed to make Weimar a success. When in 
doubt they always fell back on Article 48, which was first used in 
August 1921 to forbid anti-republican meetings. It was as though 
they were conscious all the time that the bulk of the nation had 
reservations about Weimar, regarded its elites as lackeys of the 
Allies, Erfiillung$politiker) men pledged to fulfil a hated treaty. Often 
they gave the impression that they shared these doubts themselves. 
The Socialists set this pattern from the start. Called to office for the 
first time in 1918 they made no real attempt to change the basic 
structures of an overwhelmingly authoritarian country. The spd 
leaders were worthy, toilsome men: Ebert a saddler, Noske a basket- 
maker, Wels an upholsterer, Severing a locksmith, Scheidemann a 
printer. They were dull, unimaginative, sneered at by the Left 
intelligentsia, despised by the academics. They relinquished their grip 
on office all too easily as soon as the Centre-Right recovered its 
nerve. They lacked the will to power. 

They were, moreover, thrown off balance right at the start by the 
decision of the Far Left to follow Lenin's example and opt for 
violence against parliamentarianism in the winter of 1918-19. We 
see here, once again, the disastrous consequences which flow when 
men use the politics of force because they are too impatient for the 
politics of argument. The Left putsch drove the Social Democrats 


into a fatal error. Afraid to use the regular army units, which might 
have proved mutinous, Gustav Noske asked the old High Command 
to provide him with a Freikorps of demobilized officers. They were, 
of course, produced with dispatch. The spd ministers thus gave 
legitimacy to a movement which was already spreading in the East, 
where German settler communities were fighting the Poles, and 
which was from the start violently and incorrigibly anti-Weimar. 
Soon there were no less than sixty-eight of these bodies, sometimes 
called Bunds or Ordens, with burgeoning social and political aims 
and a taste for street-fighting. One, the Bund Wehrwolf, fought the 
French - and the Socialists - in the Ruhr. Another, the ) ungdeutscher 
Orden, had 130,000 members by 1925. 46 It was from such an 
Orden, run by Karl Harrer, that the Nazis emerged, Hitler turning it 
into a mass-party, with the sa or Brownshirts as a reminder of its 
Freikorps origins. 47 

Almost inevitably, the abortive Left risings, leading to the legalizing 
of the Freikorps and the Right's recovery of confidence, produced in 
turn an army putsch. It came in March 1920, under Wolfgang Kapp, 
an old friend of Tirpitz and co-founder with him of the Fatherland 
Party in 1917. About half the army supported Kapp but the Right 
politicians and the civil servants refused to join him, and after four 
days he fled to Sweden. Unfortunately, the Far Left had again opted 
for violence instead of backing the new republican institutions. In the 
Ruhr they raised a 'Red Army' of 50,000 workers, the only time in the 
whole history of Weimar that the Marxists were able to put a sizeable 
military force into the field. The emergence of this body gave the army 
command an uncovenanted opportunity to retrieve its reputation as 
the custodian of law and order. In April it marched into the Ruhr and 
reconquered it from the Marxists, after dreadful brutalities on both 
sides. As a result, control of the army passed from the hands of the one 
reliably republican general, Walther Reinhardt, into those of a Junker 
reactionary, General Hans von Seeckt, who was dedicated to the 
destruction of the Versailles Treaty. Seeckt immediately set about 
strengthening the 'Russian connection', evading the arms-limitation 
clauses of the Treaty by constructing secret arms factories in Russia, a 
process accelerated by the signing of the Rapallo Treaty in 1922. He 
also purged the army of its republican elements, cashiering the ncos 
and privates who had opposed the Kapp putsch for 'breaking 
discipline'. 48 He turned the army from a politically neutral instrument 
into the matrix of a new, anti-republican state, which would 
implement the old programme of the Easterners. Thus the army 
slipped from Weimar's control and moved into the opposition. When 
President Ebert asked Seeckt in 1923 where the army stood, he 
replied: 'The Reichswehr stands behind me.' 49 


The resurgence of the Right was soon reflected in politics. In the 
June 1920 elections the Social Democrat vote collapsed, the old 
Weimar coalition lost power, and thereafter the men who had 
created the Republic no longer controlled it. More serious was the 
erosion of the rule of law. The judiciary, which had never liked the 
Republic, decided like the army to go into opposition. The perpetra- 
tors of the Kapp putsch were never brought to book in the courts. 
Moreover, the events of spring 1920 sharply increased a tendency 
already observable the previous year for judges to treat political 
violence, which had now become endemic in Germany, on a selective 
political basis. They reasoned that, since violence had originated 
with the Left, a violent response by the Right was in a sense designed 
to protect public order, and therefore justified. Thanks to Lenin's 
terror, this view was widely shared in Germany, so that juries tended 
to back the judges. It was the same argument that allowed the 
presentation of anti-Semitism as 'defensive'. But of course it played 
straight into the hands of the right-wing thugs of the Freikorps and 
Bunds and Orden, and helped the transformation of Germany from 
an exceptionally law-abiding into an exceptionally violent society. 
Statistics compiled in 1922 over a four-year period (1919-22) show 
that there were 354 murders committed by the Right and twenty-two 
by the Left. Those responsible for every one of the left-wing murders 
were brought to court; ten were executed and twenty-eight others 
received sentences averaging fifteen years. Of the right-wing mur- 
ders, 326 were never solved; fifty killers confessed, but of these more 
than half were acquitted despite confessions; and twenty-four 
received sentences averaging four months. 50 

The Right, in short, could practise violence with little fear of legal 
retribution. Judges and juries felt they were participating in the battle 
between German culture and alien civilization: it was right to 
recognize that violence might be a legitimate response to cultural 
provocation. Thus when the great liberal journalist Maximilian 
Harden, who was also a Jew, was nearly beaten to death by two 
thugs in 1922, the would-be killers got only a nominal sentence. The 
defence argued that Harden provoked the attack by his 'unpatriotic 
articles', and the jury found 'mitigating circumstances'. 

Why did juries, representing ordinary middle-class people in 
Germany, tend to side with the Easterners against the Westerners? 
One chief reason was what they were taught in the schools, which 
itself reflected the political tone of the universities. The tragedy of 
modern Germany is an object-lesson in the dangers of allowing 
academic life to become politicized and professors to proclaim their 
'commitment'. Whether the bias is to the Left or Right the results are 
equally disastrous for in either case the wells of truth are poisoned. 


The universities and especially the professoriate were overwhelm- 
ingly on the side of Kultur. The jurists and the teachers of German 
literature and language were stridently nationalist. The historians 
were the worst of the lot. Heinrich von Treitschke had written of 
Germany's appointment with destiny and warned the Jews not to 
get in the way of the 'young nation'. His hugely influential History 
of Germany in the Nineteenth Century, a Wilhelmine classic, went 
into another big popular edition in 1920. Contemporary historians 
like Erich Marcks, Georg von Below and Dietrich Schafer still 
celebrated the achievements of Bismarck (the anniversaries of Sedan 
and the founding of the empire were both public universities' 
holidays) and the lessons they drew from the Great War centred 
around Germany's lack of 'relentlessness'. They provided academic 
backing for the 'stab-in-the-back' myth. The academic community 
as a whole was a forcing-house for nationalist mythology. Instead 
of encouraging self-criticism and scepticism, the professors called 
for 'spiritual revivals' and peddled panaceas. 51 

By sheer bad luck, the most widely read and influential book in 
1920s Germany was The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler, 
a foolish and pedantic schoolteacher. He conceived his book in 
1911 as a warning against undue German optimism. He wrote it 
during the war in anticipation of a German victory. Its first volume 
actually appeared in 1918, when defeat gave it an astonishing 
relevance and topicality. Thus it became a best-seller. The essence 
of the book was social Darwinism. He defined eight historic cul- 
tures and argued that the 'laws of morphology' applied to them. 
The last, the culture of the West, was already showing symptoms of 
decay, such as democracy, plutocracy and technology, indicating 
that' 'civilization' was taking over from 'culture'. It seemed to 
explain why Germany had been defeated. It also heralded a coming 
age of cruel war in which would arise new Caesars, and democrats 
and humanitarians would have to be replaced by new elites of 
steel-hardened heroes who would look not for personal gain but 
for service to the community. 52 He followed it up in 1920 with a 
sensational essay, Prussianism and Socialism, which called for a 
classless, national socialism, in which the entire nation worked 
together under a dictator. It was exactly the sort of argument 
Mussolini was beginning to put forward in Italy. 

Neatly complementing Spengler's analysis was the work of two 
other important Easterners. Carl Schmitt, Germany's leading legal 
philosopher, who poured out a flood of books and articles during 
these years, constantly stressed the argument that order could only 
be restored when the demands of the state were given preference 
over the quest for an illusory 'freedom'. The Reich would not be 


secure until Weimar was remodelled as an authoritarian state around 
the principle embodied in Article 48. 53 The point was restated in a 
historical perspective by the cultural historian Arthur Moeller van 
den Bruck in a brilliant book published in 1923. The Germans, he 
argued, were the leading European creators. Their first Reich, the 
medieval empire, had formed Europe. Their second creation, Bis- 
marck's, was artificial because it had admitted the corruption of 
liberalism: that, of course, was why it had collapsed under test. 
Weimar was a mere interlude of chaos. Now the Germans had 
another opportunity: by purging society of liberalism and capitalism, 
they could build the third and final state which would embody all 
Germany's values and endure for a thousand years. He entitled this 
remarkable exercise in historical prophecy The Third Reich, 54 

Spurred on by their professors, the German student body, which 
averaged about 100,000 during the Weimar period, gave an enthusias- 
tic reception to these Easterner philosophies. The notion that the 
student body is in some constitutional way a depository of humanita- 
rian idealism will not survive a study of the Weimar period. Next to 
the ex-servicemen, the students provided the chief manpower res- 
ervoir of the violent extremists, especially of the Right. Student 
politics were dominated by the right-wing Hochschulring movement 
throughout the 1920s until it was replaced by the Nazis. 55 The Right 
extremists proceeded by converting half a dozen students on a 
campus, turning them into full-time activists, paid not to study. The 
activists could then swing the mass of the student body behind them. 
The Nazis did consistently better among the students than among the 
population as a whole and their electoral gains were always preceded 
by advances on the campus, students proving their best proselytizers. 
Students saw Nazism as a radical movement. They liked its egalita- 
rianism. They liked its anti-Semitism too. Indeed, the students were 
more anti-Semitic than either the working class or the bourgeoisie. 
Most German student societies had excluded Jews even before 1914. 
In 1919 the fraternities subscribed to the 'Eisenach Resolution', 
which stated that the racial objection to Jews was insuperable and 
could not be removed by baptism. The next year they deprived 
Jewish students of the 'honour' of duelling. In 1922 the authorities at 
Berlin University cancelled a memorial service in honour of the 
murdered Walther Rathenau rather than risk a violent student 
demonstration. This policy of appeasement towards student violence 
became the pattern of the 1920s, the rectors and faculties always 
capitulating to the most outrageous demands of student leaders 
rather than risk trouble. By 1929 the universities had passed almost 
wholly into the Easterner camp. 

Against this widely based array of social forces, what had the 


Westerners to rely upon? Not many people were prepared to die for 
Weimar or even to speak out for it. The liberals, as one of them said, 
had 'married the Republic without loving it'. To them it simply filled 
the vacuum left by the disappearance of the monarchy and pending 
the emergence of something better. Even Max Weber, before his 
death in 1920, admitted he would have preferred a plebiscitory 
democracy under a strong man to a parliamentary one he assumed 
would be weak or corrupt or both. As the liberal Munich lawyer 
Professor Hans Nawiasky put it, the Republic was a child born in 
sorrow in whose arrival no one could take pride. 56 It could never be 
separated in people's minds from its tragic and detestable origins. 

The Left had most to lose if Weimar failed - indeed they had most 
to gain by making it work — but the Far Left, at least, could never be 
persuaded to appreciate the fact. The scars of 1919 never healed and 
the Leninist element hated the Social Democrats, whom they began 
to call 'Social Fascists' from 1923 onwards, more passionately than 
anyone to the right of them. They not only failed to recognize fascism 
as a new and highly dangerous phenomenon, but refused to draw 
any distinction between middle-class conservatives who were pre- 
pared to work within the rule of law, and political savages who were 
right outside it. The Marxists never grasped the significance of 
anti-Semitism either. Here again their minds had been numbed by 
Marx's narcotic system. Marx had accepted much of the mythology 
of anti-Semitism in that he dismissed Judaism as a reflection of the 
money-lending era of capitalism. When the revolution came it was 
doomed to disappear: there would be no such person as a 'Jew'. 57 As 
a result of this absurd line of reasoning, the Jewish Marxists - 
Trotsky, Luxemburg, Paul Axelrod, Otto Bauer, Julius Martov - felt 
obliged to reject national self-determination for Jews while advocat- 
ing it for everybody else. 58 There was a grievous perversity in this 
crass denial of nature. As the Jewish historian Simon Dubnow put it: 
'How much a Jew must hate himself who recognizes the right of 
every nationality and language to self-determination but doubts it or 
restricts it for his own people whose "self-determination" began 
3,000 years ago.' 59 Seeing the Jews as a non-problem, the Marxists 
dismissed anti-Semitism as a non-problem too. They thus entered the 
greatest ideological crisis in European history by throwing their 
brains out of the window. It was a case of intellectual disarmament 
on a unilateral basis. 

Nevertheless the destruction of the Republic was not inevitable. It 
would almost certainly have survived had not the radical Right 
produced a political genius. The central tragedy of modern world 
history is that both the Russian and the German republics, in turn, 
found in Lenin and Hitler adversaries of quite exceptional calibre, 


who embodied the will to power to a degree unique in our times. Of 
course the arrival of such a figure came as no surprise to the exaltes 
of the German Right. All the disciples of Nietzsche agreed a Fiihrer 
would be necessary and would emerge, like a messiah. He was 
envisaged as the Knight from Diirer's famous print, Knight, Death 
and the Devil. Wilhelm Stapel in The Christian Statesman presented 
him as ruler, warrior and priest in one, endowed with charismatic 
qualities. 60 

The reality was rather different. Hitler was totally irreligious and 
had no interest in honour or ethics. He believed in biological 
determinism, just as Lenin believed in historical determinism. He 
thought race, not class, was the true revolutionary principle of the 
twentieth century, just as nationalism had been in the nineteenth. He 
had a similar background to Lenin. His father, too, was a minor 
bureaucrat, an Austrian customs official on the Bavarian border. 
Hitler, like Lenin, was the product of an age increasingly obsessed by 
politics. He never seriously attempted to make his living by any other 
means and he was only really at home, like Lenin, in a world where 
the pursuit of power by conspiracy, agitation and force was the chief 
object and satisfaction of existence. But in that barren and cheerless 
world he, like Lenin, was a master. He had the same intellectual 
egoism, lack of self-doubt, ruthlessness in personal relations, pre- 
ference for force as opposed to discussion and, most important, the 
ability to combine absolute fidelity to a long-term aim with skilful 
opportunism. The two men even shared a certain puritanism: Hitler, 
like Lenin (and unlike Mussolini), had little personal vanity and was 
not corrupted by the more meretricious aspects of power. 

But in one essential respect they were quite different. Whereas 
Lenin was the religious type of revolutionary, Hitler was a romantic. 
Indeed he was an artist. Liberal intellectuals were horrified, in 1939, 
when Thomas Mann, in a brilliant essay called Brother Hitler, 
compared him to the archetypal romantic artist (as described in, say, 
Henri Murger's Vie de Boheme) and asked: 'Must we not, even 
against our will, recognize in this phenomenon an aspect of the 
artist's character?' 61 Yet the comparison is valid and illuminating. It 
explains a good deal about Hitlerism which otherwise would remain 
obscure. Hitler practised painting with little skill and no success. His 
talent did not lie there. But his reactions were usually those of an 
artist both in recoil and response. Taken to his father's place of 
work, he found himself filled with 'repugnance and hatred'; it was 'a 
government cage' where 'old men sat crouched on top of one 
another, like monkeys'. 62 He grasped that he had a public mission 
when he first heard a performance of Wagner's earliest success, 
Rienzi, about a commoner who becomes people's tribune in four- 


teenth-century Rome but is destroyed by jealous nobles in a burning 
capitol: 'It began at that hour', he said later. 63 He seems to have 
conceived the 'final solution' for the Jews in the fantastic setting of 
the Gothic castle at Werfenstein in Austria where an unfrocked monk, 
Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels, was working out a systematic programme 
of race-breeding and extermination 'for the extirpation of the 
animal-man and the propagation of the higher new-man', and waged 
the race-struggle 'to the hilt of the castration knife'. It is significant 
that Lanz claimed Lenin as well as Hitler among his disciples, seeing 
an analogy between the extermination of classes 'thrown into the 
dust-bin of history' and races eliminated by breeding programmes, 
two forms of social Darwinism. 64 Hitler, too, was very interested in 
class differences, very shrewd in exploiting them to his advantage. 
But class did not stand near the centre of his political dream because 
it was not a visual concept. Race was. 

Hitler appears always to have approached politics in terms of 
visual images. Like Lenin and still more like Stalin, he was an 
outstanding practitioner of the century's most radical vice: social 
engineering - the notion that human beings can be shovelled around 
like concrete. But in Hitler's case there was always an artistic 
dimension to these Satanic schemes. Planning a world empire 
radiating from Berlin, it was the colossal state structures of the 
capital which sprang first to mind and were then modelled down to 
the smallest detail. 65 When, during the war, Hitler gave directives for 
the political, demographic and economic transformation of tens of 
millions of square miles of Europe, right up to the Urals, he spoke in 
elaborate terms of the Babylonian gardens which were to adorn the 
cities of the master-race. 66 It was highly characteristic of him that he 
put an architect in charge of war production. Indeed he should have 
been an architect himself. When he spoke of his desire for the world 
to be 'changed thoroughly and in all its parts', he was thinking 
visually and in concrete terms, by extension from his lifelong wish to 
rebuild his 'home' town of Linz. All he actually contrived to put up 
was a new bridge there: but almost to the last day in the bunker he 
studied plans for the city's transformation. He periodically envisaged 
retirement, 'after the war', when, his prime mission accomplished, he 
would replan towns and supervise public building schemes. 

Hitler's artistic approach was absolutely central to his success. 
Lenin's religious-type fanaticism would never have worked in Ger- 
many. The Germans were the best-educated nation in the world. To 
conquer their minds was very difficult. Their hearts, their sensibili- 
ties, were easier targets. Hitler's strength was that he shared with so 
many other Germans the devotion to national images new and old: 
misty forests breeding blond titans; smiling peasant villages under 


the shadow of ancestral castles; garden cities emerging from ghetto- 
like slums; riding Valkyries, burning Valhallas, new births and 
dawns in which shining, millennian structures would rise from the 
ashes of the past and stand for centuries. Hitler had in common with 
average German taste precisely those revered images which nearly a 
century of nationalist propaganda had implanted. 

It is probably true to say that Hitler's cultural assets were the 
source of his appeal. Popular detestation of Weimar culture was an 
enormous source of political energy, which he tapped with relish. 
Lenin's notion of giving up music to concentrate on politics would 
have been incomprehensible to him. In Germany, music was politics; 
and especially music-drama. Hitler exemplifies the truth that ar- 
chitectural and theatrical skills are closely related. His romantic- 
artistic instincts led him to rediscover a truth almost as old as the 
polls itself, which certainly goes back to the Pharaohs: that the 
presentation of the charismatic leader, whether Renaissance mon- 
arch or modern democratic politician, is at least as important as the 
content. One of the reasons Hitler admired Wagner was that he 
learnt so much from him, especially from Parsifal, which became the 
model for his political spectaculars. The lesson he derived from the 
Western Front was that wars could be won or lost by propaganda: a 
thought which inspired his famous sixth chapter of Mein Kampf. The 
object of all propaganda, he wrote, was 'an encroachment upon 
man's freedom of will'. 67 This could be achieved by the 'mysterious 
magic' of Bayreuth, the 'artificial twilight of Catholic Gothic chur- 
ches', and both these effects he used; but he also plundered the tricks 
of Reinhardt and other despised Weimar producers and the cinema of 
Fritz Lang. The scenes of his oratory were designed and set with 
enviable professional skill; the attention to detail was fanatical. 
Hitler was the first to appreciate the power of amplification and the 
devilry of the searchlight: he seems to have invented son et lumiere 
and used it with devastating effect at his mass night-meetings. He 
imported political costumery and insignia from Mussolini's Italy but 
improved upon them, so that Hitlerian uniforms remain the standard 
of excellence in totalitarian sumptuary. Both Stalinism and Maoism 
imitated Hitler's staging, exceeding it in scale but not in style. 

As the star of these music-dramas Hitler rehearsed himself with 
equal professionalism. The myth of the 'mad orator' was unfounded. 
Hitler was always in total control of himself. He found the notion 
useful in dealing with foreigners, however, since people like Neville 
Chamberlain were hugely relieved when they actually met Hitler and 
found him capable of talking in a sane and reasonable manner. But 
all his 'mad' effects were carefully planned. He said in August 1920 
that his object was to use 'calm understanding' to 'whip up and incite 


. . . the instinctive'. 68 He always studied the acoustics in the halls 
where he spoke. He committed his speeches to an excellent memory 
(though he had very full notes too). He practised in front of a mirror 
and got the party photographer to take him in action so he could 
study the shots. The mind reels at what he might have done with 
television and it is odd he did not push its development: Berlin- 
Witzleben put on a TV show as early as 8 March 1929. Hitler used 
oratorical gestures, then rare in Germany, which he copied from 
Ferdl Weiss, a Munich comedian who specialized in beer-hall 
audiences. He timed himself to arrive late, but not too late. In the 
early days he dealt brilliantly with hecklers and used a lot of mordant 
humour. 69 Later he aimed at the inspired prophet image, and 
severely reduced the specific political content in his speeches. Nietz- 
sche's sister Elizabeth, whom he visited in Weimar, said he struck her 
more as a spiritual than a political leader. 70 But his style was not that 
of a theologian so much as a revivalist: the American journalist 
H.R.Knickerbocker compared him to 'Billy Sunday'. 71 One observer 
wrote at the time: 'Hitler never really makes a political speech, only 
philosophical ones.' 72 In fact he did not so much outline a pro- 
gramme and make promises as demand a commitment. He saw 
politics as the mobilizing of wills. The listener surrendered his will to 
his leader, who restored it to him reinforced. As he put it: The will, 
the longing and also the power of thousands are accumulated in 
every individual. The man who enters such a meeting doubting and 
wavering leaves it inwardly reinforced: he has become a link in the 

We touch here upon an important point. Hitler, like Lenin, had 
nothing but contempt for parliamentary democracy or any other 
aspect of liberalism. But whereas Lenin insisted that an elite or even a 
single individual represented the will of the proletariat by virtue of 
their/his gnosis, Hitler was not averse to the democratic voice 
expressing itself in a less metaphysical form. In a sense he believed in 
participatory democracy and even practised it for a time. Indeed 
Hitler had no alternative but to pursue power, to some extent, by 
democratic means. In a rare moment of frankness, Lenin once said 
that only a country like Russia could have been captured so easily as 
he took it. Germany was a different proposition. It could not be 
raped. It had to be seduced. 

It took Hitler some time to discover this fact. His political 
education is worth studying in a little detail. In pre- 19 14 Vienna he 
acquired his socialism and his anti-Semitism. The socialism he got 
from the famous Christian-Social mayor, Karl Lueger, who imitated 
and improved on Bismarck's social policy to create a miniature 
welfare state: in fifteen years he gave Vienna a superb transport, 


educational and social security system, green belts and a million new 
jobs. Here the whole of Hitler's domestic policy up to 1939 was 
adumbrated: to use the huge, paternalistic state to persuade the masses 
to forgo liberty in exchange for security. Lueger was also an 
anti-Semite, but it was another Viennese politico, the Pan-Germanist 
Georg von Schonerer, who taught Hitler to place the 'solution' to 'the 
Jewish problem' in the very centre of politics: Schonerer demanded 
anti-Jewish laws and his followers wore on their watch-chains the 
insignia of a hanged Jew. 

The third element, which turned Hitler into the archetypal Easterner, 
was added during the war. Ludendorf f believed strongly in the political 
education of the troops. He indoctrinated them with the idea of a vast 
eastward expansion, which the Brest-Litovsk Treaty showed was 
possible. Hitler became an enthusiastic exponent of this vision, 
expanded it and adapted it to include in its realization the 'final 
solution' for the 'Jewish problem'. It remained the biggest single 
element in his entire programme of action, the axis of attack around 
which all else revolved. Ludendorff 's scheme for a politicized army was 
one of the many ideas which Lenin enthusiastically adopted, appoint- 
ing political commissars down to battalion level. In turn, the German 
army readopted it after the Red risings of early 1919 had been put 
down. The Political Department of the Munich district command made 
Hitler one of their first 'political instruction officers' after the Munich 
Soviet had been smashed. Ernst Roehm was one of his colleagues. These 
two men took full advantage of the genuine anti-Red fears in Munich to 
turn it into the capital of German extremism. 

In September 1919 Hitler took over a small proletarian group called 
the German Workers' Party. By April 1920, when he left the army to 
begin a full-time political career, he had transformed it into the nucleus 
of a mass party, given it a foreign policy (abrogation of Versailles, a 
Greater Germany, Eastern expansion, Jews to be excluded from 
citizenship) and reorganized its economic aims into a radical twenty- 
five-point programme: confiscation of war-profits, abolition of 
unearned incomes, state to take over trusts and share profits of 
industry, land for national needs to be expropriated without compensa- 
tion. He also added the words 'National Socialist' to its title. Though 
Hitler sometimes used the words nationalism and socialism as though 
they were interchangeable, the radical and socialist element in his 
programme always remained strong. He was never in any sense a 
bourgeois or conservative politician or an exponent or defender of 
capitalism. Nor was the Nazi Party predominantly lower middle-class. 
Modern historians have hotly debated the extent of its working-class 
appeal. 73 The truth seems to be that the active Nazis were drawn from 
the discontented of all classes except the peasants and farmers. Out of a 


total of 4,800 members in 1923, 34.5 per cent were working class, 
31 per cent lower middle-class, 6.2 minor officials, 11.1 clerks, 13.6 
small businessmen and shopkeepers. 74 

Hitler's policy of creating a vanguard-elite party on a mass base 
was, of course, modelled on Lenin's experience. Indeed in important 
respects he remained a Leninist to the end, particularly in his belief 
that a highly disciplined and centralized party, culminating in an 
autocratic apex, was the only instrument capable of carrying through 
a fundamental revolution. Once in power he put in motion a 
systematic party take-over of all the organs of society exactly as 
Lenin did. And initially he planned to take power in the same way as 
Lenin in 1917, by a paramilitary putsch. He was encouraged in this 
resolve by the success of Mussolini's march on Rome in the autumn 
of 1922. A year later he thought the time had come in Germany too. 

In 1923 the German currency, long teetering on the brink of 
chaos, finally fell into it. In 1913 the German mark had been worth 
2.38 US dollars. By 1918 it had fallen to 7 cents, and by the middle 
of 1922 one US cent would buy 100 marks. The German financial 
authorities blamed the fall on the reparation clauses of the Versailles 
Treaty. In fact reparations had nothing directly to do with it. 
German public finance had been unsound since Bismarck's day, 
when he had paid for his wars by borrowing, afterwards liquidating 
the debts with the loot. The same technique was tried in 1914-18 but 
this time there was no loot and Germany emerged with a mountain 
of public debt in government bonds and a stupendous amount of 
paper money in circulation. The inflation began long before repara- 
tions were heard of and it had reached hyper-inflation levels by 1921 
when the first payments became due. The crisis was due entirely to 
the reckless manner in which the Ministry of Finance, abetted by the 
Reichsbank, allowed credit and the money supply to expand. No one 
in the financial and business establishment cared a damn for the 
'Republican mark'. They speculated and hedged against it, shipped 
capital abroad and, in the case of the industrialists, invested in fixed 
capital as fast as they could by borrowing paper money. When 
Keynes was called in to advise in the autumn of 1922 he proposed a 
sharp remedy which a later generation would term 'monetarism' - 
the government, he said, must at all costs balance the budget and 
curb money supply. This excellent advice was rejected and the 
printing presses accelerated. 75 

The final currency collapse began in January 1923 when the 
French occupied the Ruhr, the population stopped working and the 
German government accepted the financial responsibility to continue 
paying their wages. By the summer of 1923 a visiting US Congress- 
man, A.P.Andrew, recorded he got 4,000 million marks for 7 


dollars; a meal for two in a restaurant cost 1,500 million, plus a 400 
million tip. By 30 November the daily issue was up to 4,000 
quintillions. The banks were charging 35 per cent interest a day on 
loans, while paying depositors only 18 per cent a year. As a result, a 
peasant woman who deposited the price of a cow and drew it out six 
months later found it was worth less than the price of a herring. 
Small depositors and holders of government bonds lost everything. 
The big gainers, apart from the government itself, were the land- 
owners, who redeemed all their mortgages, and the industrialists, 
who repaid their debts in worthless paper and became the absolute 
owners of all their fixed capital. It was one of the biggest and crudest 
transfers of wealth in history. The responsibilities were clear; the 
beneficiaries of the fraud were easily identifiable. Yet it is a depress- 
ing indication of public obtuseness in economic matters that the 
German public, and above all the losers, far from 'developing a 
proletarian consciousness' - as Marx had predicted they would in 
such a case - blamed the Versailles Treaty and 'Jewish speculators'. 

Naturally such an upheaval had political results. On 13 August 
Gustav Stresemann, the only popular Weimar politician, formed a 
'Great Coalition' from the Social Democrats to the fairly respectable 
Right. It lasted only one hundred days. A state of emergency was 
declared and power placed in the hands of the Defence Minister. 
There was talk of a 'March on Berlin'. But it was the Communists, as 
nearly always happened, who began the cycle of violence by an 
uprising in Saxony. Hitler now decided it was time to take over 
Bavaria. On 8 November his men surrounded a beer-hall where the 
local government was meeting, took its leaders into custody, formed 
them into a new dictatorial government with himself as political boss 
and Ludendorff head of the army, and then marched on the city with 
3,000 men. But the police opened fire, the march dispersed, Hitler 
was arrested and in due course sentenced to five years in Landsberg 
fortress-prison. 76 

The authorities, however, had no intention he should serve his 
term. Hitler benefited from the double-standard which favoured all 
'Easterner' criminals. 'The prisoner of Landsberg' was a popular and 
cosseted inmate. Instead of gaol garb he wore Lederhosen, a 
Bavarian peasant jacket and a green hunting hat with a feather. He 
spent up to six hours a day receiving a constant stream of visitors, 
including admiring women and cringing politicians. On his thirty- 
fifth birthday the flowers and parcels filled several rooms of the 
fortress, and his cell, according to one eyewitness, always 'looked 
like a delicatessen store'. 77 The months he spent there were just long 
enough for him to write Mein Kampf, tapping it out, as Hess's wife 
Use later testified, 'with two fingers on an ancient typewriter'. 78 


While Hitler was in Landsberg a great change came over Germany. 
In the short term events moved against him. The new president of 
the Reichsbank, Dr Hjalmar Schacht, stabilized the currency, intro- 
duced a new Reichsmark, based on gold and negotiable abroad, 
stopped printing money and slashed government expenditure - did, 
in fact, what Keynes had advised eighteen months before. The 
German economy, indeed the world economy, moved into smoother 
waters. The next five years saw steady economic expansion and in 
consequence a much higher degree of political stability: they were the 
best years of Weimar's life. Hitler realized, in Landsberg, that he was 
not going to get power Lenin's way. He must become a demotic 
politician. Mein Kampf acknowledged this fact and indicated exactly 
how he would do it. But he also sensed that the year 1923 had been a 
watershed, which in the long run must favour his endeavour. For 
millions of its victims, the legacy of the Great Inflation would be an 
inextinguishable, burning hatred of Weimar and its managers, of the 
'Westernizing' establishment, of the Treaty and the Allies and those 
in Germany who had been associated with them. The German 
middle class had shifted its axis. Henceforth the Western cause was 
doomed; 'culture' would prevail over 'civilization'. Hitler noted this 
seismic reorientation in the remarkable fourth chapter of Mein 
Kampf describing the 'war for living space' fought against Russia. 
'We stop the endless German movement to the south and west', he 
wrote, 'and turn our gaze towards the land in the east. At long last 
we break off the colonial and commercial policies of the pre-War 
period and shift to the soil policy of the future.' 79 

Almost at the exact moment Hitler was writing this, a strange and 
intuitive Englishman was coming to exactly the same conclusion. On 
19 February 1924 D.H.Lawrence wrote a 'Letter from Germany'. 80 
It was, he said, 'as if the Germanic life were slowly ebbing away from 
contact with western Europe, ebbing to the deserts of the east'. On 
his last visit in 1921, Germany 'was still open to Europe. Then it still 
looked to western Europe for a reunion . . . reconciliation. Now that 
is over . . . the positivity of our civilization has broken. The 
influences that come, come invisibly out of Tartary .... Returning 
again to the fascination of the destructive East that produced Attila.' 
He continued: 

... at night you feel strange things stirring in the darkness .... There is a 
sense of danger ... a queer, bristling feeling of uncanny danger .... The 
hope in peace-and-production is broken. The old flow, the old adherence is 
ruptured. And a still older flow has set in. Back, back to the savage polarity 
of Tartary, and away from the polarity of civilized Christian Europe. This, 
it seems to me, has already happened. And it is a happening of far more 


profound import than any actual event. It is the father of the next phase of 

Determined to exploit this new polarity, and in his role of populist 
politician, Hitler — who had an undoubted streak of creative 
imagination — spent his last weeks in gaol thinking out the concept of 
spectacular scenic roads built specially for cars, the future autobah- 
nen, and of a 'people's car' or Volkswagen to carry the nation along 
them. 81 He was released on 20 December 1924 and, suffering from 
Wagner-starvation, made straight for the house of the pianist Ernst 
Hanfstaengel and commanded him: 'Play the Liebestod' The next 
morning he bought a Mercedes for 26,000 marks and thereafter, 
until he became Chancellor, insisted on passing every car on the 
road. 82 


Legitimacy in Decadence 

While the Eastern wind was blowing again in Germany, the Anglo- 
French alliance was coming apart. On 22 September 1922 there was 
an appalling scene at the Hotel Matignon in Paris between Raymond 
Poincare, the French Prime Minister, and Lord Curzon, the British 
Foreign Secretary. Three days before, the French had pulled out their 
troops from Chanak, leaving the tiny British contingent exposed to the 
full fury of Ataturk's nationalists, and making a humiliation inevit- 
able. Curzon had come to remonstrate. 

The two men hated each other. Poincare was the spokesman of the 
French rentiers, a Forsytian lawyer, sharp, prudent, thrifty, who liked 
to quote Guizot's advice to the French, 'Enrichissez-vous!' VAvocat 
de France, they called him: he had inherited the nationalism of Thiers, 
whose biography he was writihg. His boast was incorruptibility: he 
insisted on writing all his letters by hand and when he sent an official 
messenger on private business, paid for it himself. 1 Curzon, too, wrote 
his own letters, thousands and thousands of them, sitting up late into 
the night, unable to sleep from a childhood back-injury. He, too, had a 
parsimonious streak, rigorously scrutinizing Lady Curzon's house- 
hold accounts, keeping the servants up to the mark, not above telling a 
housemaid how to dust the furniture or a footman how to pour tea. 
But Poincare brought out all his aristocratic contempt for middle-class 
vulgarity and French emotional self-indulgence. As the two men 
argued, Poincare 'lost all command of his temper and for a quarter of 
an hour shouted and raved at the top of his voice'. Lord Hardinge, the 
British Ambassador, had to help the shocked Curzon to another room, 
where he collapsed on a scarlet sofa, his hands trembling violently. 
'Charley/ he said, 'I can't bear that horrid little man. I can't bear him. I 
can't bear him.' And Lord Curzon wept. 2 

The underlying cause of the Anglo— French division was precisely a 
different estimate of the likelihood of a German military revival. Most 
of the British regarded French statesmen as paranoid on the subject of 



Germany. 'I tell you,' Edouard Herriot was heard to say by Sir 
Austen Chamberlain, 'I look forward with terror to her making war 
upon us again in ten years.' 3 This French view was shared by the 
British members of the Inter-Allied Commission of Control, whose 
job was to supervise Articles 168-9 of the Versailles Treaty gov- 
erning the disarmament of Germany. Brigadier-General J.H.Morgan 
reported privately that Germany had retained more of its pre-war 
characteristics, especially its militarism, than any other state in 
Europe. 4 The French claimed that every time they checked a 
statement by the Weimar War Ministry, they found it to be untrue. 
But the reports of the Control Commission, recording brazen 
violations, were never published; were, in the view of some, delib- 
erately suppressed, to help the general cause of disarmament and 
cutting defence spending. The British Ambassador to Germany, Lord 
D'Abernon, a high-minded militant teetotaller, was passionately 
pro-German, the first of the Appeasers; he believed every word in 
Keynes's book and reported that it was impossible for Germany to 
conceal evasions of the Treaty. 5 He had nothing to say in his reports 
about holding companies set up by German firms to make weapons 
in Turkey, Finland, Rotterdam, Barcelona, Bilbao and Cadiz, and 
arrangements made by Krupps to develop tanks and guns in 
Sweden. 6 

French resentment at British indifference to the risks of a German 
revival was further fuelled on 16 April 1922 when Germany signed 
the Rapallo Treaty with Russia. One of the secret objects of this 
agreement, as the French suspected, was to extend arrangements for 
the joint manufacture of arms in Russia, and even to have German 
pilots and tank-crews trained there. It also had a sinister message to 
France's eastern ally Poland, hinting at a German-Soviet deal against 
her which finally emerged as the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939. 
Rapallo strengthened Poincare's determination to get reparations 
from Germany by force, if necessary, and it was not long after the 
break with Britain over Chanak that he sent French troops into the 
Ruhr, on 11 January 1923. Some of these troops were from French 
Africa, and it was one of Poincare's boasts that France was 'a 
country not of 40 million but of 100 million'. The French railway 
system in Africa, such as it was, had as its main purpose the rapid 
transportation of troops to the European theatre. The fact that the 
Germans had a particular hatred for the Arabs and blacks in French 
uniform was, to the French, an additional reason for sending them 
there. France's harsh line brought short-term results on 26 Septem- 
ber 1923 when the German government, in effect, capitulated to 
Poincare's demands. The fierce little lawyer, who held power (with 
one interruption) until 1929, was the dominant figure in Western 


European politics for most of the Twenties and appeared to many 
(including some of the British and Americans) to personify a French 
aggressiveness which was a greater threat to European and world 
stability than anything likely to emerge from Germany. 

In fact all Poincare's policy produced was a gigantic German 
resentment, certain to come into the open the second French power 
waned, and a strengthening of the very forces in Germany deter- 
mined on military revival. And of course the image of a fighting-cock 
France, resuming the dominant role in Europe it had occupied from 
the time of Louis xiv to Napoleon I, was an illusion. Versailles had 
not broken up Bismarck's Germany. It was inevitably the only 
superpower in Europe, now that Russia had virtually ceased - if only 
temporarily - to be a European power. Sooner or later that German 
superiority, in numbers, industrial strength, organization and 
national spirit, was bound to declare itself again. The only question 
was whether it would do so in generous or hostile fashion. 

By comparison the French were weak. Equally important, they felt 
they were even weaker than they actually were. The consciousness of 
debility, marked in the Twenties - Poincare's bluster was an attempt 
to conceal it - became obsessional in the Thirties. In the seventeenth 
century the French population had been nearly twice as big as any 
other in Europe. The next largest, significantly enough, had been that 
of Poland. 7 The French had a melancholy awareness of the decline of 
their« new Eastern ally, which they hoped to make great again to 
balance their own decline. It was engraven on French hearts that, 
even as late as 1800, they were still the most numerous race in 
Europe, Russia alone excepted. Since then they had suffered an 
alarming relative decline, reflected in scores of worried demographic 
tracts which had been appearing since the 1840s. They were over- 
taken by the Austrians in 1860, the Germans in 1870, the British in 
1900, and the Italians were to follow in 1933, making France a mere 
fifth in Europe. Between 1800, when it was 28 million, and 1940, the 
French population increased by only 50 per cent, while Germany's 
quadrupled and Britain's tripled. 8 

The Great War, which (as the French saw it) Germany had willed 
on France in order to destroy her utterly as a major power, had 
tragically increased France's demographic weakness. They had had 
1,400,000 men killed - 17.6 per cent of the army, 10.5 per cent of 
the entire active male population. Even with Alsace and Lorraine 
back in the fold, the French population had fallen in consequence, 
from 39.6 million to 39.12 million, while Britain's, for instance, had 
risen 2.5 million during the war years. Some 1.1 million Frenchmen 
had become mutiles de guerre, permanently disabled. The Germans 
had killed 673,000 peasants, seriously wounded half a million more, 


occupied ten departements with a population of 6.5 million, turned a 
quarter of them into refugees, wrecked farm-buildings, slaughtered 
livestock and removed machinery when they withdrew, as well as 
turning Frenchmen into slave-labourers in the factories of Luden- 
dorff's 'War Socialism', where death-rates were nearly as high as the 
10 per cent a year they reached under the Nazis in the Second World 
War. The French brooded on these appalling figures, which were 
made to seem even more terrible by the brilliance of their own 
war-propaganda. 9 

Those French who suffered war-damage were well compensated 
afterwards but the manner in which this was financed, despite all 
Poincare's efforts, produced a progressive inflation which, while less 
spectacular than Germany's in 1923, lasted much longer and was 
ultimately more corrosive of national morale. Between 1912 and 
1948, wholesale prices in France multiplied 105 times and the price 
of gold 174 times. Against the dollar, the franc in 1939 was only 
one-seventieth of its 1913 value. 10 For American and British tourists 
and expatriates, France between the wars was a bargain-basement 
paradise, but it was hard on the French who treated the steady 
erosion of their rentes and savings as an additional reason for having 
fewer children. Between 1906 and 1931 the number of French 
families with three or more children fell drastically and during the 
Thirties one-child families were commoner than any other. By 1936 
France had a larger proportion of people over sixty than any other 
country - 147 per thousand, compared to 129 in Britain, 119 in 
Germany, 91 in the US and 74 in Japan. 11 

France had hoped to strengthen herself by recovering Alsace and 
Lorraine, the latter with a large industrial belt. But of course the 
economy of the two provinces had been integrated with the Ruhr and 
it was badly damaged by the separation. In heavily Catholic Alsace 
the French alienated the clergy by attacking German, the language of 
religious instruction. They tended to make the same mistake as the 
Germans and behave like colonizers. In fact they had less to offer, for 
French social security was much inferior to Germany's. 12 France was 
a poor market for industry, albeit a protected one. Strict rent 
controls, imposed in 1914 and never lifted, killed France's housing 
market. Housing stock, 9.5 million before the war, was still only 9.75 
million in 1939, with nearly a third declared unfit for human 
habitation. Agriculture was appallingly backward. In the 1930s there 
were still three million horses on the farms, the same number as in 
1850. France, like Italy, was a semi-industrialized country and her 
pre-war rate of progress was not fully sustained in the 1920s, still less 
in the 1930s when industrial production never returned to the 1929 
levels. Between 1890 and 1904 France was the world's biggest car 


manufacturer. In the 1920s she still made more cars than Italy or 
Germany. But she failed to produce a cheap car for mass-sale. By the 
mid-1 930s 68 per cent of cars sold in France were second-hand and 
there were still 1,352,000 horse-carriages on the streets, exactly as 
many as in 1891. 13 

The root of the problem was low investment. Here again inflation 
was to blame. The state was a poor substitute for the private 
investor. It was the biggest employer even before 1914 and the war 
gave the state sector new impetus. Etienne Clementel, Minister of 
Commerce 1915-19, wanted a national plan and an economic union 
of Western Europe; among his proteges were Jean Monnet and other 
future 'Eurocrats'. But nothing came of these ideas at the time. The 
state bought into railways, shipping, electricity, oil and gas to keep 
things going and preserve jobs, but little money was available for 
investment. 14 French industrialists had plenty of ideas but were 
frustrated by the lack of big opportunities and spent much of their 
time feuding with each other - thus, Ernest Mercier, head of the 
electricity and petrol industries, fought a bitter war with Francois de 
Wendel, the big iron-steel boss. 15 For clever men lower down the 
ladder the lack of opportunities was even worse (for women they 
were non-existent). Between the wars real wages of engineers in 
France fell by a third. Higher education, especially on the technical 
side, was tragically inadequate, bedevilled by sectarian rows and lack 
of funds. Most of the money went to the famous but old-fashioned 
'Grandes Ecoles' in Paris: Herriot called the Poly technique, which 
produced the technocrats, 'the only theology faculty which has not 
been abolished'. A Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique did 
emerge, but on an exiguous budget. The new Paris Medical Faculty 
building, ordered in the 1920s, was not finished till the 1950s 
(France had no Health Ministry until 1922), and by 1939 it had only 
two doctors on its staff. One striking statistic sums it up: in 1927 
France spent less on higher education than on feeding cavalry 
horses. 16 

Moreover, in its own way France was as divided as Germany. 
There was no clash between civilization and culture. Quite the 
contrary. The French were agreed about civilization: they owned it. 
They were most reluctant, at Versailles, to admit English as an 
alternative official language. They regarded France as the originator, 
home and custodian of civilization — a word they themselves had 
coined in 1766. They envied, disliked and despised the Anglo- 
Saxons. Their best young novelist, Francois Mauriac, wrote in 1937: 
'I do not understand and I do not like the English except when they 
are dead.' Among the popular books of the period were Henri 
Beraud's Faut-il reduire VAngleterre en esclavaget (1935) and Robert 


Aron and Andre Dandieu's Le Cancer Americain (1931). The 
Germans, oddly enough, were more acceptable. In the 1930s, young 
novelists like Malraux and Camus read Nietzsche and young philoso- 
phers like Sartre were attracted to Heidegger. But the official model for 
France was Descartes, whose methodology dominated the school 
philosophy classes which were the most striking feature of the French 
education system. 17 They were designed to produce a highly intelligent 
national leadership. What they did produce was intellectuals; not quite 
the same thing. And the intellectuals were divided not merely in their 
views but on their function. The most influential of the philosophy 
teachers, Emile Chartier ('Alain'), preached 'commitment'. But the 
best-read tract for the times, Julien Benda's La Trahison des Clercs 
(1927), preached detachment. 18 There was something to be said for 
keeping French intellectuals above the fray: they hated each other too 
much. Marx had assumed, in the Communist Manifesto, that 
'intellectuals' were a section of the bourgeoisie which identified itself 
with the interests of the working class. This analysis appeared to be 
confirmed during the early stages of the Dreyfus case (the Jewish officer 
falsely convicted of treason), when the newly fashionable term 
'intelligentsia' was identified with the anti-clerical Left. But the long 
Dreyfus struggle itself brought into existence an entirely new category 
of right-wing French intellectuals, who declared a reluctant cease-fire in 
1914 but emerged foaming with rage in 1918 and helped the political 
Right, the next year, to win its first general election victory in a 
generation. Except in 1924-5, 1930-1 and 1936-8, the French Right 
and Centre dominated the Chambre des Deputes (and the Senate 
throughout), and the Right intellectuals held the initiative in the salons 
and on the boulevards. 

There was agreement about civilization; where the French fought 
was over culture. Was it secular or confessional, positivist or a matter of 
metaphysics? The battle was bitter and destructive, savagely dividing 
the education system, business, local government, society. The 
freemasons, the militant arm of secularity, were still increasing their 
numbers, from 40,000 in 1928 to 60,000 in 1936. 19 Their junior arm 
was composed of the despised, underpaid state primary teachers, 
pro-republican, pacifist, anti-clerical, who fought the cure in every 
village. They used a completely different set of textbooks, especially in 
history, to the Catholic 'free' schools. But the Catholics were gaining in 
the schools. Between the wars, state secondary schools dropped from 
561 to 552; Catholic ones more than doubled, from 632 in 1920 to 
1,420 in 1936. The Anciens eleves (Old Boys) associations of these 
Catholic colleges were exceptionally well organized and militant, 
thirsting to reverse the verdict of the Dreyfus years. 20 The bifurcation in 
the French schools tended to produce two distinct races of Frenchmen, 


who had different historical heroes (and villains), different political 
vocabularies, different fundamental assumptions about politics and, 
not least, two completely different images of France. 

In fact in France there were two rival types of nationalism. The 
secularists and republicans, who rejected the fatherhood of God and 
the king, had coined the term la patrie in the eighteenth century to 
denote their higher allegiance to their country. When Dr Johnson 
declared, at this time, that 'Patriotism is the last refuge of a 
scoundrel' he was denouncing a species of subversive demagoguery. 
French patriotism acquired a Jacobin flavour under the Revolution 
and this type of progressive nationalism was perpetuated by Gam- 
betta and Clemenceau. It could be just as chauvinistic and ruthless as 
any other kind — more, perhaps, since it tended to admit no higher 
law than the interest of the Republic, thought to incarnate virtue - 
but it tended to evaporate into defeatism and pacifism the moment 
France was thought to be in the control of men who did not serve the 
aims of la patrie. In particular, it regarded the regular army, which 
was overwhelmingly Catholic and partly royalist, with suspicion, 
even hostility. 

As opposed to 'patriotic France' there was 'nationalist France'. It 
was the Gallic equivalent of the division between Westerners and 
Easterners in Germany. It is a mistake to describe the inter-war 
French nationalists as fascists - though some of them became fascists 
of the most gruesome kind - because the tradition was much older. It 
went back to the emigres of the Revolutionary epoch, the cultural 
reaction to the Enlightenment of Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot, 
and it first acquired an intellectual content in the writings of Joseph 
de Maistre, whose masterpiece, Les Soirees de Saint-Peter sbourg, 
was published in 1821. He offered a combination of irrationalism, 
romanticism and a Jansenist stress on original sin. Human reason is a 
'trembling light', too weak to discipline a disorderly race: 'That 
which our miserable century calls superstition, fanaticism, intol- 
erance etc. was a necessary ingredient of French greatness.' 'Man is 
too wicked to be free.' He is 'a monstrous centaur ... the result of 
some unknown offence, some abominable miscegenation'. 21 To this 
de Maistre added the important notion of a vast conspiracy which, 
with the ostensible object of 'freeing' man, would in fact unleash the 
devil in him. 

In the two decades leading up to the Dreyfus case in the 1890s, 
conspiracy theory became the stock-in-trade of French anti-Semites 
like Edouard Drumont, whose La France juive (1886) grossly 
exaggerated the power, influence and above all the numbers of Jews 
living in France. In fact when Drumont wrote there were only about 
35,000 Jews in France. But their numbers were increasing: there 


were over 100,000 by 1920. Other 'aliens' poured in. France under 
the Third Republic, and especially between the wars, was the most 
agreeable country in the world in which to live, and in many ways 
the most tolerant of foreigners provided they did not cause trouble. 22 
Between 1889 and 1940 nearly 2,300,000 foreigners received French 
citizenship and there were, in addition, a further 2,613,000 foreign 
residents in 1931, a figure which increased rapidly as refugees from 
Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and the Spanish war arrived. 23 The French 
were not racist in the German sense, since a certain cosmopolitanism 
was a corollary of their proprietory rights over civilization. But they 
were extraordinarily susceptible to weird racial theories, which they 
produced in abundance. Thus in 1915 Dr Edgar Berillon 'discovered' 
that Germans had intestines nine feet longer than other humans, 
which made them prone to 'polychesia' and bromidrosis (excessive 
defecation and body-smells). 24 If Paris was the world capital of 
Cartesian reason, it was also the capital of astrology, fringe-medicine 
and pseudo-scientific religiosity. There was (indeed still is) a strong 
anti-rationalist culture in France. 

Hence the success of Action Franqaise, the newspaper of the 
nationalist ultras. It began in 1899 among a small group of intellec- 
tuals who met on the Boulevard Saint-Germain at the Cafe Flore - 
which was, in 1944, to be 'liberated' by the Existentialists - and 
flourished on the talents of Charles Maurras. He publicized the idea 
of a multiple conspiracy: 'Quatres etats confederes: Juifs, Protes- 
tants, franc-masons, meteques' (aliens). This was not very different 
from the official Vatican line during the Dreyfus case, though it 
substituted 'atheists' for 'aliens'. In fact though both Maurras and 
Action Franqaise were themselves atheistic, many of their views were 
strongly approved of by the Catholic Church. Pius x, the last of the 
great reactionary popes, told Maurras' mother, 'I bless his work', 
and though he signed a Holy Office decree condemning his books he 
refused to allow it to be enforced - they were Damnabiles, non 
damnandus. 25 Vatican condemnation did come in the end, on 20 
December 1926, because Pius xi had by then experience of fascism in 
power. But there were plenty of related groups to which faithful 
Catholics could belong and the nationalist movement never lost its 
respectability among the middle and upper classes. Action Franqaise^ 
edited by Leon Daudet, was brilliantly written and widely read: that 
was why Proust, though a Jew, took it, finding it 'a cure by elevation 
of the mind'. 26 Many leading writers were close to the movement. 
They included, for instance, France's leading popular historian, 
Jacques Bainville, whose Histoire de France (1924) sold over 
300,000 copies, and whose Napoleon (1931) and La Troisieme 
Republique were also best-sellers. 


Indeed the weakness of French nationalism was that it was too 
intellectual. It lacked a leader with the will to power. At the end of 
1933, with fascism triumphant in most of Europe, the Stavisky 
scandal in France gave the ultras precisely the revelation of republi- 
can corruption which they needed to justify a coup. Some kind of 
proto-fascist state would almost certainly have come into existence 
on 6 February 1934 had Maurras given the signal for action. But he 
was then sixty-six, very deaf and by temperament a sedentary 
word-spinner: he spent the critical day writing an editorial instead. 
Precisely the gifts which made him so dangerous in stirring the 
passions of educated Frenchmen incapacitated him from leading 
them into battle. There was thus no focus around which a united 
fascist movement could gather. Instead there was a proliferation of 
groups, each with a slightly different ideology and a varying degree 
of tolerance towards violence. They presented the mirror-image of 
the despised regime des partis in the Chambre des Deputes. Bourbon 
factions like Les Camelots du Roi jostled the Bonapartist Jeunesses 
Patriotes, the atheist Etudiants d y Action Franqaise and 'pure' fascist 
groups such as the Parti Populaire Franqais, he Paisceau and the 
Phalanges Universitaires^ and more traditional movements like the 
Croix de Feu, Nazi-type adventurers, many of whom were later to 
flourish under Vichy, shopped around these mushroom growths, 
looking for the best bargain. It took an external catastrophe to bring 
them to power. 

Yet Maurras and his supporters undoubtedly made this catastro- 
phe more likely. The Third Republic had more friends in France than 
Weimar had in Germany. Maurras revealed that it had a host of 
enemies too. His favourite quotation was from the stuffy Academi- 
cian and Nobel Prizewinner Anatole France: 'La Republique n'est 
pas destructible, elle est la destruction. Elle est la dispersion, elle est 
la discontinuity, elle est la diver site, elle est le mal.' 27 The Republic, 
he wrote, was a woman, lacking 'the male principle of initiative and 
action'. 'There is only one way to improve democracy: destroy it.' 
'Democracy is evil, democracy is death.' 'Democracy is forgetting/' 
His fundamental law was 'Those people who are governed by their 
men of action and their military leaders defeat those peoples who are 
governed by their lawyers and professors.' If republicanism was 
death, how could it be worth dying for? The Versailles Treaty was 
the creation of 'a combination of Anglo-Saxon finance and Judeo- 
German finance'. The conspiracy theory could be reformulated - 
anarchism, Germans, Jews: 'The barbarians from the depths, the 
barbarians from the East, our Demos flanked by its two friends, the 
German and the Jew.' 28 The ultra-nationalists, though jealous of 
French interests as they conceived them, were thus unwilling either to 


preserve the Europe of Versailles or to curb fascist aggression. 
Bainville's diaries show that he welcomed the fascist successes in 
Italy and Germany. 29 Maurras applauded the invasion of Ethiopia 
by Mussolini as the struggle of civilization against barbarism. 30 
'What can you do for Poland?' he asked his readers, a cry echoed by 
Marcel Deat's devastating 'Mourir pour Dantzig?' 

In effect, then, both the strains of nationalism in France, the 
Jacobin and the anti-republican, had reservations about the sacrifices 
they would be prepared to make. It was not a case of my country 
right or wrong, or my country Left or Right, but a case of whose 
country — mine or theirs? The division within France was already 
apparent by the early 1920s and the infirmity of will it produced 
soon affected actual policy. France's post-war defence posture was 
based on absolute military supremacy west of the Rhine, containing 
Germany on one side, and a military alliance of new states, to 
contain her on the other. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugo- 
slavia all had complicated military arrangements with France down 
to the supply of weapons and the training of technicians. Poincare's 
occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 saw the western arm of the policy in 
action. But it did such damage to French interests in Britain and 
America that it appeared to many French politicians to be unrepeat- 
able; and the 1924 American solution to the reparations mess, the 
Dawes Plan, removed much of the excuse for a further resort to 
force. The Germans now proposed that the Franco-German frontier 
should be guaranteed, and Britain backed their request. The French 
replied that, in that case, Britain must also agree to guarantee the 
frontiers of Germany in the east with France's allies, Poland and 
Czechoslovakia. But the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Austen Cham- 
berlain, refused, writing to the head of the Foreign Office, Sir Eyre 
Crowe, (16 February 1925) that Britain could not possibly guarantee 
the Polish Corridor 'for which no British government ever will or 
ever can risk the bones of a British grenadier'. 31 No mourir pour 
Dantzig there, either! 

Hence the Treaty of Locarno (1925), while effectively denying 
France the right to contain Germany by force, failed to underwrite 
her system of defensive alliances either. All it did was to demilitarize 
the Rhineland and give Britain and France the right to intervene by 
force if Germany sought to restore her full sovereignty there. This, 
however, was bluff. Though Chamberlain boasted to the 1926 
Imperial Conference that 'the true defence of our country ... is now 
no longer the Channel . . . but upon the Rhine', the British Chiefs of 
Staff privately pointed out that they did not possess the military 
means to back up the guarantee. 32 Two years later the Chief of the 
Imperial General Staff produced a cabinet memorandum pointing 


out that Germany's total strength, including reserves, was not the 
100,000 army allowed by Versailles but a force of 2 million. 33 The 
French War Office made the same kind of estimate. By 1928 
Poincare had dropped the 'forward' notion of a strategic frontier on 
the Rhine and had reverted to a purely defensive policy: experts were 
already working on the project to be known as the Maginot Line. 

What, then, of Poincare's 'country of 100 million', the imperial 
vision which H.G.Wells termed 'the development of "Black 
France"'? 34 Could the empire be invoked to redress the balance of 
France's weakness in Europe? Maurice Barres, the intellectual who 
helped to put together the right-wing coalition which swept to 
victory in the 1919 elections, wrote: 'One is almost tempted to thank 
the Germans for opening the eyes of the world to colonial questions.' 
The 1919 parliament was known as the 'Chambre bleu horizon\ 
after the colour of the army uniforms and its imperialist aspirations. 
Albert Sarraut, the Minister for the Colonies, produced a grandiose 
plan in April 1921 to turn France d'Outre-mer into the economic 
underpinning of la Mere-patrie. 35 But to realize this vision there were 
one, or possibly two, prerequisites. The first and most important was 
money for investment. The French had hoped to get it, under the 
Sykes-Picot secret agreement, from the spoils of war: a 'Greater 
Syria' including the Mosul oilfields. But in the scramble after the end 
of the war she was denied this by Britain and her Hashemite Arab 
proteges. All France got was the Lebanon, where she was the 
traditional protector of the Christian Maronite community, and 
western Syria, where there was no oil and a lot of ferocious Arab 
nationalists. She would have been better off with just the Lebanon. In 
Syria the mandate was a total failure, provoking full-scale rebellion, 
put down at enormous military expense, and culminating in 1925 
with the French High Commissioner shelling Damascus with heavy 
artillery. 36 The Middle East carve-up remained a festering source of 
discord between France and her chief ally, Britain, leading to actual 
fighting between them in 1940-1. France never made a franc profit 
out of the area. 

As a result, there was no money for Sarraut's plan. France's black 
African colonies had been acquired after 1870 for prestige not 
economic reasons, to keep the army employed and to paint the map 
blue. A law of 1900 said that each colony must pay for its own 
upkeep. Federations were organized in West (1904) and Equatorial 
(1910) Africa, but the combined population of both these vast areas 
was less than that of Britain's Nigeria. To make economic sense, 
everyone agreed, they had to be linked to France's North African 
territories. In 1923 the Quai d'Orsay and the Ministries of War and 
Colonies agreed that the building of a Trans-Sahara railway was 


absolutely 'indispensable'. But there was no money. Even a technical 
survey was not made until 1928. The railway was never built. More 
money in fact did go into France's overseas territories; investments 
increased fourfold between 1914—40, the empire's share of total 
French investment rising from 9 to 45 per cent. But nearly all of this 
went to France's Arab territories, Algeria getting the lion's share. In 
1937 foreign trade of the Franco-Arab lands was over 15 milliard 
francs, four times that of West and Equatorial Africa. 37 

The second prerequisite was some kind of devolution of power, so 
that the inhabitants of the 'country of 100 million' enjoyed equal 
rights. But there was no chance of this. In 1919 at the Paris Treaty 
talks, Ho Chi Minh presented, on behalf of the Annamites of 
Indo-China, an eight-point programme; not, indeed, of self- 
determination but of civil rights, as enjoyed by metropolitan France 
and expatriates. He got nowhere. Indo-China had one of the worst 
forced-labour systems in the world and its oppressive system of 
native taxation included the old gabelle or salt-tax. As Ho Chi Minh 
put it, France had brought to Indo-China not progress but medieval- 
ism, which the gabelle symbolized: 'Taxes, forced labour, exploita- 
tion,' he said in 1924, 'that is the summing up of your civilization.' 38 
There were as many (5,000) French officials in Indo-China as in the 
whole of British India, with fifteen times the population, and they 
worked closely with the French colon planters. Neither would 
tolerate devolution or reforms. When in 1927 a progressive French 
governor-general, Alexandre Varenne, tried to end the corvee, they 
ganged up to get him recalled. In 1930, in Indo-China alone, there 
were nearly 700 summary executions. If Gandhi had tried his passive 
resistance there, Ho Chi Minh wrote, 'he would long since have 
ascended into heaven'. 39 

In North Africa it was no better, in some ways worse. Algeria was 
in theory run like metropolitan France but in fact it had separate 
electoral colleges for French and Arabs. This wrecked Clemenceau's 
post-war reforms in 1919 and indeed all subsequent ones. The 
French settlers sent deputies to the parliament in Paris and this gave 
them a leverage unknown in the British Empire. In 1936 the colon 
deputies killed a Popular Front bill which would have given full 
citizenship to 20,000 Muslims. Marshal Lyautey, the great French 
Governor-General of Morocco, described the colons as 'every bit as 
bad as the Boches, imbued with the same belief in inferior races 
whose destiny is to be exploited'. 40 In Morocco he did his best to 
keep them out. But this was difficult. In Morocco a French farmer 
could enjoy the same living standards as one in the American 
Mid-West. All Europeans there had real incomes a third above that 
of France, and eight times higher than the Muslims. Moreover, 


Lyautey's benevolent despotism, which was designed to protect the 
Muslims from French corruption, in fact exposed them to native 
corruption at its worst. He ruled through caids who bought their 
tax-inspectorates and judgeships, getting into debt thereby and being 
obliged to squeeze their subjects to pay the interest. The system 
degenerated swiftly after Lyautey's death in 1934. The greatest of the 
caids, the notorious El Glawi, Pasha of Marrakesh, ran a 
mountain-and-desert empire of rackets and monopolies, including 
control of Marrakesh's 27,000 prostitutes who catered for the needs 
of the entire Western Sahara. 41 On the front that mattered most, 
education, little progress was made. There were far too many French 
officials: 15,000 of them, three times as many as the Indian 
administration, all anxious to perpetuate and if possible hereditarize 
their jobs. In 1940, accordingly, there were still only 3 per cent of 
Moroccans who went to school, and even in 1958 only 1,500 
received a secondary education. In 1952 there were only twenty-five 
Moroccan doctors, fourteen of them from the Jewish community. 

It was not that the French had colour prejudice. Paris always 
welcomed evolues. In 1919 the old-established 'Four Communes' of 
West Africa sent to the Chambre a black deputy, Blaise Diagne. Two 
years later Rene Maran's Batouala, giving the black man's view of 
colonialism, won the Prix Goncourt. But the book was banned in all 
France's African territories. Clever blacks learned to write superb 
French; but once they got to Paris they tended to stay there. In the 
1930s, Leopold Senghor, later President of Senegal, felt so at home in 
right-wing Catholic circles he became a monarchist. 42 There seemed 
no future for him in Africa. By 1936 only 2,000 blacks had French 
citizenship. Apart from war veterans and government clerks, the 
great majority of black Africans were under the indigenat — summary 
justice, collective fines, above all forced labour. Houphouet-Boigny, 
later President of the Ivory Coast, described the work-gangs as 
'skeletons covered with sores'. The Governor of French Equatorial 
Africa, Antonelli, admitted that the building of the Congo-Ocean 
railway in 1926 would 'require 10,000 deaths'; in fact more died 
during its construction. 43 Black Africans voted with their feet, 
running into nearby British colonies to escape the round-ups. 

Some Frenchmen with long experience of colonial affairs saw 
portents. Lyautey warned in 1920: The time has come to make a 
radical change of course in native policy and Muslim participation in 
public affairs.' 44 Sarraut himself argued that the European 'civil war' 
of 1914—18 had weakened the position of the whites. 'In the minds 
of other races,' he wrote in 1931, 'the war has dealt a terrible blow to 
the standing of a civilization which Europeans claimed with pride to 
be superior, yet in whose name Europeans spent more than four 


years savagely killing each other.' With Japan in mind he added: 'It 
has long been a commonplace to contrast European greatness with 
Asian decadence. The contrast now seems to be reversed.' 45 Yet 
nothing effective was done to broaden the base of French rule. When 
Leon Blum's Popular Front government introduced its reform plan to 
give 25,000 Algerians citizenship, the leader of the Algerian 
moderates, Ferhat Abbas, exulted 'La France, c'est moiV Maurice 
Viollette, a liberal Governor-General of Algeria and later, as a 
Deputy, one of the sponsors of the reform, warned the Chambre: 
'When the Muslims protest, you are indignant. When they approve, 
you are suspicious. When they keep quiet, you are fearful. Messieurs, 
these men have no political nation. They do not even demand their 
religious nation. All they ask is to be admitted into yours. If. you 
refuse this, beware lest they do not soon create one for themselves.' 46 
But the reform was killed. 

The truth is colonialism contained far too many unresolved 
contradictions to be a source of strength. Sometimes it was seen, as 
indeed it partly was, as the expression of European rule. Thus in the 
Thirties, Sarraut, who was terrified of increasing Communist subver- 
sion in Africa, proposed a united European front, to include the 
Italians and even the Germans, who would get their colonies back. 
But as war approached the French again saw their empire as a means 
to fight their European enemies, resurrecting the slogan '110 million 
strong, France can stand up to Germany!' In September 1939, 
Clemenceau's former secretary, Georges Mandel, once an anti- 
colonialist but now Minister for the Colonies, boasted he would raise 
2 million black and Arab troops. The two lines of thought were in 
the long run mutually exclusive. If Europe used non-whites to fight 
its civil wars, it could not combine to uphold continental race- 

But this was only one example of the confusions which, from first 
to last - and persisting to this day - surrounded the whole subject of 
imperialism and the colonial empires. What purpose did they serve? 
Cui bono? Who benefited, who suffered? To use Lenin's phrase, who 
was doing what to whom? There was never any agreement. Lord 
Shelburne, the eighteenth-century statesman who deliberated most 
deeply on the question, laid down the policy that 'England prefers 
trade without domination where possible, but accepts trade with 
domination when necessary.' 47 Classical economists like Adam 
Smith, Bentham and Ricardo saw colonies as a vicious excuse to 
exercise monopoly, and therefore as contrary to the general eco- 
nomic interest. 48 Edward Gibbon Wakefield, in his View of the Art 
of Colonization (1849), thought the object was to provide living- 
space for overcrowded European populations. This was likewise the 


view of the greatest colonizer of all, Cecil Rhodes - without it, the 
unemployed would destroy social order: 'The Empire ... is a bread 
and butter question: if you want to avoid civil war, you must become 
imperialists.' 49 On the other hand, protectionists like Joe Chamber- 
lain argued that colonies existed to provide safe markets for exports, 
a return to pre-industrialist mercantilism. 

It was Robert Torrens in The Colonization of South Australia 
(1835), who first put forward the view that colonies should be seen 
primarily as a place to invest capital. The notion of surplus capital 
was taken up by John Stuart Mill: 'Colonization in the present state 
of the world is the best affair of business in which the capital of an 
old and wealthy country can engage.' 50 This was also the view of 
practical French colonizers, like Jules Ferry, and their theorists, like 
Paul Leroy-Beaulieu; though the latter's book, De la Colonization 
(1874), provided categories: colonie de peuplement (emigration and 
capital combined), colonie d y exploitation (capital export only) and 
colonies mixtes. The German theorist, Gustav Schmoller, argued that 
large-scale emigration from Europe was inevitable and that coloniza- 
tion, as opposed to transatlantic settlement, was far preferable as it 
did not involve capital flying from outside the control of the 
mother-country. All these writers and practitioners saw the process 
as deliberate and systematic, and above all rational. Most of them 
saw it as benevolent and benefiting all concerned, including the 
native peoples. Indeed Lord Lugard, the creator of British West 
Africa, felt Europe had not merely an interest but a moral mandate to 
make its financial resources available to the whole world. 

In 1902 however the capital-export argument was turned into a 
conspiracy theory by J.A.Hobson, a Hampstead intellectual, classi- 
cal schoolmaster and Manchester Guardian journalist. Hobson's 
ideas were to have an important twentieth-century reverberance. In 
1889 he had developed a theory of under-consumption: industry 
produced too much, the rich could not consume it all, the poor could 
not afford it, and therefore capital had to be exported. Keynes later 
acknowledged that Hobson's theory had a decisive influence on his 
General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936), and 
Hobson's solutions — steeply progressive taxation, vast welfare 
services and nationalization — became the conventional wisdom of 
West European social democrats. But Hobson was also an anti- 
Semite, and in the 1890s he was so angered by the 'scramble' for 
Africa, the forcible extraction of concessions from China and, above 
all, by the events leading up to the Boer War, that he produced a wild 
book, Imperialism (1902), in which the process was presented as a 
concerted and deliberate act of wickedness by 'finance-capital', often 
Jewish. Imperialism was the direct consequence of under- 


consumption and the need to export capital to secure higher returns. In 
two crucial chapters, 'The Parasites' and 'The Economic Taproot of 
Imperialism', he presented this conspiracy theory in highly moralistic 
and emotional terms, arguing that the only people to gain anything 
from empires were the 'finance-capitalists': the natives suffered, the 
colonizing nations as a whole suffered and, just as the Boer War was a 
plot to seize control of the Rand gold mines, so the practice of 
imperialism and particularly competitive imperialism would tend to 
produce war. 51 

The actual idea of imperialism had only entered the socio-economic 
vocabulary about 1900. Hobson's book, which defined it as 'the use of 
the machinery of government by private interests, mainly capitalists, to 
secure for them economic gains outside the country', 52 instantly made 
the evil conspiracy aspect immensely attractive to Marxists and other 
determinists. 53 The Austrian economists, Otto Bauer and Rudolf 
Hilferding, argued in 1910 that imperialism made war absolutely 
inevitable. In 1916 Lenin put the capstone on this shaky edifice by 
producing his Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism, which 
fitted the concept neatly into the basic structure of Marxist theory. 
Hitherto, colonial empires had been approached in an empirical spirit. 
Colonies were judged on their merits. Colonial powers were benevolent 
or exploitative or a mixture of both. The process was seen as having 
advantages and drawbacks for all the parties concerned and, above all, 
as complicated and changing. Now it was all reduced to slogans, made 
simple, in both economic and moral terms, and certified, everywhere 
and always, as intrinsically evil. The process whereby this crude and 
implausible theory became the conventional wisdom of most of the 
world, over the half-century which followed the Versailles Treaty, is 
one of the central developments of modern times, second only in 
importance to the spread of political violence. 

The actual historical and economic reality did not fit any of the 
theories, the Hobson-Lenin one perhaps least of all. If empires were 
created because of over-saving and under-consumption, if they 
represented the final stage of capitalism, how did one explain the 
empires of antiquity? Joseph Schumpeter, whose Zur Soziologie des 
Imperialisms {On the Sociology of Imperialism) appeared in 
Germany in 1919, was closer to the truth when he argued that modern 
imperialism was 'atavistic'. Capitalism, he pointed out, usually 
flourished on peace and free-trade, rather than war and protectionism. 
Colonies often represented 'an objectless disposition ... to unlimited 
frontier expansion'. They seemed to be acquired at a certain critical 
stage of national and social development, reflecting the real or imagined 
interests of the ruling class. 54 But that was too glib also. As a matter of 
fact, the rise of the Japanese Empire (as we shall see) came closest to the 


model of a deliberately willed development by an all-powerful ruling 
establishment. But the Japanese model was scarcely ever considered 
by the European theorists. And in any case Japanese expansion was 
often dictated by assertive military commanders on the spot, who 
exceeded or even disobeyed the orders of the ruling group. That was 
the French pattern too. Algeria was acquired as a result of army 
insubordination; Indo-China had been entered by overweening naval 
commanders; it was the marines who got France involved in West 
Africa. 55 In one sense the French Empire could be looked upon as a 
gigantic system of outdoor relief for army officers. It was designed to 
give them something to do. What they actually did bore little relation 
to what most of the ruling establishment wanted or decided. The 
French cabinet was never consulted about Fashoda, the protectorate 
over Morocco, or the 1911 crisis. Parliament never really controlled 
the empire at any stage of its existence. Jules Ferry probably came 
close to the real truth when he described the imperial scramble as 'an 
immense steeplechase towards the unknown'. 56 It was said that 
Bismarck encouraged France to lead the steeplechase in order to 
forget his annexation of Alsace and Lorraine. If so, he was much 
mistaken. Outside the army, few Frenchmen cared about black 
Africa. As Deroulede put it: T have lost two sisters - you offer me 
twenty chambermaids.' 57 

There were a great many other anomalies which did not fit into 
Hobson-Lenin. Why, in Latin America, did the phase of capitalist 
investment follow, rather than precede or accompany, Spanish 
colonialism? Why, in this vast area, were the capitalists in league 
with the political liberators? Then again, some of the 'exploited' or 
colonized countries were themselves residual empires. China was the 
creation of a whole series of imperial dynasties, without benefit of 
'finance-capital'. India was a product of Mughal imperialism. Tur- 
key had been expanded from Ottoman Anatolia. Egypt was an old 
imperial power which, after its breakaway from Turkey, sought to be 
one again in the Sudan. There were half a dozen native empires south 
of the Sahara run by groups and movements such as the Ashanti, 
Fulani, Bornu, Al-Haji Umar, Futa Toro. Ethiopia was an empire 
competing with the European empires in the Horn of Africa, before 
succumbing to one of them in 1935. Burma was a kind of empire. 
Persia, like China, was an imperial survivor from antiquity. Colon- 
ialism itself created empires of this anomalous type. The Congo (later 
Zaire) was put together by the Berlin Conference of 1884-5, and 
survived decolonization without benefit of any of the factors which 
theory said created empires. So did Indonesia, a product of Dutch 
tidy-mindedness, assembled from scores of quite different territories. 
Conspiracy theory shed no light on any of these cases. 58 


What is decisive, however, is that the theory broke down at its very 
core - the need for colonies to provide high-return settlement areas 
for capital. Indeed, the closer the actual facts are studied, the clearer 
it becomes that any notion of 'finance-capital' desperately looking 
for colonies as places to invest its huge surpluses of capital is 
preposterous. There was never any such thing as 'surplus' capital. 
Investment capital was always hard to come by, but especially in the 
colonies. The tropics did not yield big returns until the very end of 
the colonial era. There were a few big success stories. In West Africa, 
Lever Brothers made huge investments in communications, social 
services and plantations which by the 1950s employed 40,000 
Africans: the company owned 350,000 hectares and actively worked 
60,000. 59 There was also heavy investment and occasional high 
profits (but also some large-scale failures) in Malaya, whose rubber 
and tin made it probably the richest colony between the wars. 
Capital did not follow the flag. The British were at least as likely to 
put their money in independent Latin-American states as in crown 
colonies. They often lost it too. Argentina, which attracted more 
British money than any other 'developing' territory, taught all 
investors a fearful lesson during its 1890-1 financial crisis. Taking 
the nineteenth century as a whole, British investors in Argentina 
showed a net loss. 60 The Germans and Italians were keener than 
anyone to possess colonies but were most reluctant to sink any 
money in them. The French preferred Russia - or the Dutch East 
Indies - to their 'twenty chambermaids'. The British, too, favoured 
Java and Sumatra over their innumerable African territories. 61 Con- 
spiracy theory demands the existence of a small number of very 
clever people making a highly rational appreciation and co- 
ordinating their efforts. In fact the number of investors, in France 
and Britain alone, was very large and their behaviour emotional, 
inconsistent, ill-informed and prejudiced. The City of London was 
incapable of planning anything, let alone a world-wide conspiracy; it 
simply followed what it imagined (often wrongly) to be its short- 
term interests, on a day-to-day basis. 62 The most consistent single 
characteristic of European investors throughout the colonial period 
was ignorance, based on laziness. 

If investors had no agreed and concerted, let alone conspiratorial 
aim, the colonial administrators were not much clearer. In the 
nineteenth century, in the spirit of Macaulay's educational reforms in 
India, the object of colonial rule was commonly thought to be to 
produce imitation Europeans. Between the wars this vision faded 
rapidly, leaving only confusion. The so-called 'Dual Mandate' policy 
put forward by Lord Lugard in the 1920s, not so different to 
Lyautey's aims in Morocco, sought to preserve native patterns of 


administration, and to give paramountcy to their interests. The 
British task, Lugard wrote, was 'to promote the commercial and 
industrial progress of Africa without too careful a scrutiny of the 
material gains to ourselves'. 63 This element of altruism gradually 
became stronger but it coexisted with other aims: military strategy, 
emigration, defending settler interests, national prestige, national 
economic policy (including tariffs), which varied according to the 
nature of the colony, and the colonial system, and were often 
inconsistent with native interests and indeed with each other. There 
was no typical colony. Many colonial territories were not, in legal 
terms, colonies at all, but protectorates, mandates, Trust territories, 
federations of kingdoms and principalities, or quasi-sovereignties 
like Egypt and the states of the Persian Gulf (including Persia itself). 
There were about a score of different prototypes. Some colonies, 
especially in West Africa, contained two or more quite different legal 
entities, representing successive archaeological layers of Western 
penetration. In these circumstances pursuing a consistent colonial 
policy, with clear long-term aims, was impossible. No empire did so. 

Hence there can be no such thing as a balance-sheet of colonialism 
between the wars, or at any other stage. Broadly speaking, the policy 
was to provide the basic infrastructure of external defence, internal 
security, basic roads and public health, and leave the rest to private 
initiative. Government's aim was to be efficient, impartial, uncorrupt 
and non-interventionist. Sometimes the government found itself 
obliged to run the economy, as Italy did in Somalia and Libya, with 
conspicuous lack of success. 64 It usually had to maintain a broader 
public sector than at home. Thus Britain, for instance, promoted the 
modernization and expansion of agriculture and ran public health 
services in all her crown colonies, and operated state railways in 
every African territory south of the Sahara (except Rhodesia and 
Nyasaland). But all this points to a scarcity, not a surplus, of capital. 
Government did these things from a sense of duty, not desire; they 
added to the debit side of the ledger. 

Colonial governments did little to promote industry but they did 
not deliberately restrict it either. Usually there was little incentive to 
invest, shortage of skilled labour and lack of good local markets 
being the main obstacles. Where conditions were suitable, as in the 
Belgian Congo, industry appeared between the wars, though the 
money came chiefly not from Belgium but from foreign sources and 
foreign-owned subsidiaries — another blow to the conspiracy theory. 
Dakar in French West Africa was a growth point for exactly the same 
reason. The notion that colonialism, as such, prevented local indus- 
try from developing, breaks down on the simple fact that the 
free-trading British, Belgians and Dutch, on the one hand, pursued 


diametrically opposed policies to the protectionist French, Spanish, 
Italian, Portuguese and Americans on the other. 

From 1923 onwards, and especially after 1932, the British broke 
their own rules about free trade in order to promote Indian industry. 
It was the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, who persuaded J.N.Tata, the Parsee 
cotton magnate, to set up an Indian iron and steel industry, for which 
Britain provided protective tariffs. By 1945 India produced 1.15 
million tons annually and Indian producers virtually monopolized 
the market. Again, in cotton and jute, where conditions for the 
industry were attractive, the Indians could and did produce the 
capital themselves, and Britain provided protection. By the time of 
independence, India had a large industrial sector, with Indian firms 
handling 83 per cent of banking, 60 per cent of exports-imports and 
supplying 60 per cent of consumer goods. 65 But it is very doubtful 
that creating local industries behind a tariff barrier worked to the 
advantage of the general population of a colony. By and large, the 
inhabitants of the free-trading empires enjoyed higher living stan- 
dards than the others, as one would expect. India and Pakistan 
maintained ultra-protectionist policies after independence, with 
protection levels of 313 and 271 per cent respectively, and that is one 
reason why their living standards have risen so much more slowly 
than in the market economies of Eastern Asia. 66 

On the whole, colonial powers served the interests of local 
inhabitants best when they allowed market forces to prevail over 
restrictive policies, however well intentioned. It usually meant mov- 
ing from subsistence agriculture to large-scale production of cash- 
crops for export. This so-called 'distortion' of colonial economies to 
serve the purposes of the mother country or world markets is the 
basis of the charge that these territories were simply 'exploited'. It is 
argued that colonies became poorer than before, that their 'natural' 
economies were destroyed, and that they entered into a diseased 
phase termed 'underdevelopment'. 67 Unfortunately the statistical 
evidence to prove or refute this theory simply does not exist. Mungo 
Park's Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa (1799) does not give 
the impression of a rural Arcadia where the pursuit of wealth was 
eschewed: quite the contrary. The independent chiefs were not only 
imperialists, in their own small way, but exceptionally acquisitive. 
They moved into cash-crop agriculture wherever they could contrive 
to find a market. Indeed there was no alternative, once population 
increases made subsistence farming a dead-end. 

The notion that industrialization, as opposed to primary produc- 
tion, is the sole road to high living standards is belied by the 
experience of former colonies like Australia, New Zealand, much of 
Canada and the US Midwest, where exports of meat, wool, wheat, 


dairy products and minerals have produced the most prosperous 
countries in the world. It is significant, perhaps, that during the 
post-colonial period none of the newly independent states with 
well-established plantation economies has attempted to replace them 
by other forms of farming. Quite the reverse in fact: all have sought 
to improve their export-earning potential, usually in order to finance 
industrial development - which was exactly what most colonial 
governments were seeking to do in the later phases of the era. There 
were rarely big and never easy profits to be made out of large-scale 
tropical agriculture. An analysis of export prices of coffee, cocoa, 
ground-nuts, cotton, palm oil, rice, gum arabic, kernels and kapok in 
the French West African territories during the last phase of colonial 
rule (1953) shows that profits were small and determined largely by 
the transport system. 68 The argument that the advanced economies 
organized a progressive deterioration in the terms of trade to depress 
primary prices does not square with the statistical evidence and is 
simply another aspect of conspiracy theory. 

The worst aspects of inter-war colonialism were forced labour and 
land apportionment on a racial basis. Their origin was as follows. 
African land could be made productive, and a take-off from sub- 
sistence agriculture achieved, only if adequate labour, working 
European-style regular hours, was made available. In pre-colonial 
Africa the answer had been slavery. The more progressive colonial 
powers, Britain and to a lesser extent France, were determined to 
abolish it. The British preferred to push Africans into the labour 
market by taxation. Or they imported labour under contract. This 
was the easy way out. Running a world-wide empire where labour as 
well as goods could travel freely, they induced Indians to work in 
Burma, Malaya, the Pacific, Ceylon and in South, Central and East 
Africa, even in Central and South America; and Chinese to work in 
South-East Asia, the Pacific, South Africa and Australia. They also 
brought about big internal movements in Africa, just as the Dutch, in 
Indonesia, induced Javanese to work in the other islands. 69 The 
effect was to create a large number of intractable race and communal 
problems (or, in the case of Indonesia, Javanese imperialism) which 
are still with us. The Dutch also adopted the so-called 'culture 
system' which forced the inhabitants to produce by demanding 
payment in kind, the state being the chief plantation owner and 
agent. 70 The culture system was adopted by Leopold n, the creator 
of the Belgian Congo, and became the basis of the economy there, 
and the Belgians also put pressure on the chiefs to provide Volun- 
teers' who signed long indentures. The French and Portuguese went 
the whole hog with unpaid corvees (forced labour) as a substitute for 
taxation. The worst cases of oppression occurred in Portuguese 


Africa and the Congo. They had largely been ended by 1914, 
following exposure by British journalists and consular officials. But 
forced labour in some forms continued right up to the late 1940s. 71 
Its scale was small, however. Indeed, until comparatively recently 
the vast majority of Africans remained quite outside the wage 
economy. As late as the 1950s, out of 170 million Africans south of 
the Sahara, only 8 million worked for wages at any one time in the 
year. 72 Where wages were high the Africans worked willingly: the 
Rand goldfield never had any trouble getting labour, from its origin 
up to this day. Elsewhere it was mostly the same old story: low 
returns, low investments, low productivity, low wages. No one who 
actually worked in Africa, white or black, ever subscribed to 
fantasies about surplus capital. That existed only in Hampstead and 
Left Bank cafes. 

The biggest mistake made by the colonial powers — and it had 
political and moral as well as economic consequences — was to 
refuse to allow the market system to operate in land. Here they 
followed the procedures first worked out in the British colonies in 
America in the seventeenth century, elaborated to develop the 
American Midwest and West (to the destruction of the indigenous 
Indians) and refined, on a purely racial basis, in South Africa. It 
involved human engineering, and was therefore destructive of the 
individualistic principle which lies at the heart of the Judaeo— 
Christian ethic. In South Africa, by 1931, some 1.8 million Eu- 
ropeans had 'reserves' of 440,000 square miles, while 6 million 
Africans were allotted only 34,000 square miles. In Southern 
Rhodesia, the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 gave Europeans, 
already in possession of 30 million acres, the right to buy a further 
34 million acres of crown lands, while Africans, with reserves of 21 
million acres, had access only to 7 million more. In Northern 
Rhodesia the whites already had exclusive possession of 9 million 
acres. In Kenya this deliberate distortion of the free land market 
was particularly disgraceful since in 1923 the Duke of Devonshire, 
as Colonial Secretary, had laid down the 'Devonshire Declaration': 
'Primarily Kenya is an African territory . . . the interests of the 
African natives must be paramount.' Despite this, in a deliberate 
exercise in social engineering, the White Highlands was cleared of 
its Kikuyu inhabitants to make way for white farmers. In the 1930s, 
there were in Kenya 53,000 square miles of African reserves, 
16,700 reserved for Europeans and 99,000 of crown lands, which 
the government could apportion according to arbitrary political 
criteria. The system was indefensible. Indeed it was only defended 
on the grounds that drawing racial lines was essential to good 
farming. The argument was false in itself (as subsequent events in 


Kenya have demonstrated) and it contradicted the general free- 
market principles on which the British Empire had been created. 

Of course in pressing for the social engineering inherent in the 
race-determined apportionment of land, the settlers were making a 
crude response to what to them was an overwhelming fact: the 
unequal development of human societies. It is a problem fundamen- 
tal to the species, which already existed in marked form at the time of 
the Iron Age. The archetype European capitalist empires, which were 
effectively confined to the years 1870-1945, constituted an unco- 
ordinated and spasmodic, often contradictory, series of attempts to 
solve the problem presented by the existence of advanced and 
backward societies in a shrinking world, where contacts between 
them were inevitable, not least because populations were rising 
almost everywhere - and expectations too. 

The system, if it can be called that, was slow to get itself organized: 
even the French did not have a Colonial Ministry until 1894, 
Germany till 1906, Italy 1907, Belgium 1910, Portugal 1911. 73 Its 
'classical age' between the wars was already a kind of twilight. Its 
existence was too brief to achieve results on its own terms. Develop- 
ing human and natural resources is a slow, laborious and often 
bloody business, as the whole of history teaches. Men like Rhodes, 
Ferry, Lugard, Lyautey and Sarraut shared an unjustified optimism 
that the process could be speeded up and made relatively painless. 
Exactly the same illusions were shared by their successors as 
independent rulers: Sukarno, Nasser, Nkrumah, Nehru and scores of 
others, as we shall see. But most of the poor countries remained in 
the same position relative to the rich in the 1980s as they were in the 
1870s, when the great age of colonialism started. 

This leads us to a very important point. Colonialism was a highly 
visual phenomenon. It abounded in flags, exotic uniforms, splendid 
ceremonies, Durbars, sunset-guns, trade exhibitions at Olympia and 
the Grand Palais, postage stamps and, above all, coloured maps. It 
was, in essence, a cartographic entity, to be perceived most clearly 
and powerfully from the pages of an atlas. Seen from maps, 
colonialism appeared to have changed the world. Seen on the 
ground, it appeared a more meretricious phenomenon, which could 
and did change little. It came easily; it went easily. Few died either to 
make it or break it. It both accelerated and retarded, though 
marginally in both cases, the emergence of a world economic system, 
which would have come into existence at approximately the same 
speed if the Europeans had never annexed a single hectare of Asia or 
Africa. 'Colonialism' covered such a varied multiplicity of human 
arrangements that it is doubtful whether it describes anything 
specific at all. 


Colonialism was important not for what it was but for what it was 
not. It bred grandiose illusions and unjustified grievances. The first 
had a major impact on events up to 1945; the second thereafter. If the 
French Empire seemed to transform a declining and exhausted France 
into a vigorous Samson of a hundred million, Britain's Common- 
wealth appeared to make her a superpower - a notion that Hitler, for 
instance, carried with him to his bunker. Again, it was the visual 
aspect which determined such perceptions. In the 1920s, the great 
military roads, public buildings and European quarters which Lyautey 
had commanded for Morocco were taking shape: formidable, dur- 
able, austerely magnificent, as indeed they still are. Simultaneously, 
Sir Edwin Lutyens's government quarters in Delhi, the finest of all the 
twentieth century's large-scale conceptions, was being completed. 
Significantly, both had been conceived in Edwardian times; both were 
made flesh only after the first of Europe's civil wars had already 
undermined the empires they adorned. Architecture is both the most 
concrete and the most emblematic of the arts. Public buildings speak: 
sometimes in false tones. Lutyens's splendid domes and cupolas used 
two voices. To most of the British, to most foreigners, to most Indians 
above all, they announced durability; but to the military and 
economic experts they increasingly whispered doubt. 

A case in point was the imperial currency system. From 1912 Britain 
divided her empire into regional currency areas, regulated by a British 
Currency Board according to the Colonial Sterling Exchange Stan- 
dard; from 1920 colonies had to hold 100 per cent cover (in bullion or 
gilt-edge bonds) in Britain for their fiduciary issue. It produced a great 
many complaints among the nationalists, especially in India. In fact it 
was a sensible system which gave most of the Commonwealth the very 
real blessing of monetary stability. It also worked very fairly until after 
1939, when the exigencies of British wartime finance and her rapid 
decline into total insolvency rfendered the whole system oppressive. 74 
There is a vital moral here. Britain could be just to her colonial subjects 
so long as she was a comparatively wealthy nation. A rich power could 
run a prosperous and well-conducted empire. Poor nations, like Spain 
and Portugal, could not afford justice or forgo exploitation. But it 
follows from this, as many British statesmen had insisted throughout 
the nineteenth century, that colonies were not a source of strength but 
of weakness. They were a luxury, maintained for prestige and paid for 
by diverting real resources. The concept of a colonial superpower was 
largely fraudulent. As a military and economic colossus, the British 
Empire was made of lath and plaster, paint and gilding. 

Hence the curious sense, both of heartlessness and of extravagance, 
but also of fragility and impermanence, which the between-the-wars 
empire evoked in the beholder. Malcolm Muggeridge, at Simla in the 


early 1920s, noted that only the Viceroy and two other officials were 
allowed cars, and that the roads were so steep that all the rickshaw 
coolies died young of heart-failure. Watching a fat man being pulled 
along he heard someone say, 'Look, there's one man pulling another 
along. And they say there's a God!' 75 In 1930 in Kenya, Evelyn Waugh 
came across 'a lovely American called Kiki', whom a rich British 
settler at Lake Navaisha in the White Highlands had given 'two or 
three miles of lake-front as a Christmas present'. 76 Yet Leo Amery, the 
most ambitious of the inter-war Colonial Secretaries, found his plan to 
have a separate Dominions section thwarted because the Treasury 
would not spend an extra £800 a year in salaries. 77 When Lord 
Reading was made Viceroy in 1921, the political manoeuvrings which 
surrounded the appointment made it clear that, in the eyes of the 
British government, the need to keep Sir Gordon Hewart, a good 
debater, on the Front Bench as Attorney-General, was much more 
important than who ruled India. 78 Three years later, the great 
imperialist editor of the Observer, J.L.Garvin, 'thought it quite 
possible that within five years we might lose India and with it — 
Goodbye to the British Empire'. 79 The same elegiac thought occurred 
to a young British police officer in Burma who was called upon, at 
exactly that time, to shoot an elephant to impress 'the natives': 'It was 
at that moment', George Orwell wrote, 'that I first grasped the 
hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here 
was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed 
native crowd — seemingly the leading actor in the piece. But in reality I 
was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those 
yellow faces behind.' 80 

Running an empire was in great part a simple matter of determina- 
tion. Years later, in 1 962, Sir Roy Welensky, premier of the Rhodesian 
Federation, was to say 'Britain has lost the will to government in 
Africa'. It was not yet lost in the 1920s and 1930s, or not wholly lost. 
But it was being eroded. The Great War had shaken the self- 
confidence of the British ruling class. Losses from the United Kingdom 
were not so enormous: 702,410 dead. They were comparable with 
Italy's, which bounded with vitality in the 1920s. But of course Italy's 
population was still rising fast. Moreover it was widely believed that the 
products of Oxford and Cambridge and the public schools had been 
particularly heavily hit. Some 37,452 British officers had been killed 
on the Western Front, 2,438 killed, wounded or missing on the first 
day (1 July 1916) of the Battle of the Somme alone. 81 From this arose 
the myth of the 'lost generation', in which slaughtered paladins like 
Raymond Asquith, Julian Grenfell and Rupert Brooke, many of them 
in sober fact misfits or failures, were presented as irreplaceable. 82 The 
myth was partly literary in creation. The war poets were numerous 


and of high quality: Wilfred Owen, Edmund Blunden, Siegfried 
Sassoon, Herbert Read, Robert Graves, Isaac Rosenberg, Maurice 
Baring, Richard Aldington, Robert Nichols, Wilfred Gibson and 
many others; in the final years of the war they became obsessed 
with death, futility and waste. 83 Their poems haunted the early 
1920s; later came the prose: R.C.Sherriff's play Journey's End, 
Blunden's Undertones of War, Sassoon's Memoirs of a Fox- 
Hunting Man, all in 1928; Aldington's Death of a Hero the 
following year. It was a literature which, while not exactly defeatist, 
was unheroic and underlined the cost of defending national great- 

In the minds of the upper class, moreover, the loss of life, which 
they exaggerated, was directly linked to the crisis of the old landed 
system of traditional gentry agriculture, which had been in deep 
trouble since the arrival of transatlantic grain in the 1870s and was 
now on its last legs. Pre-war legislation had been designed to 
protect tenant-farmers against landlords. Lloyd George, who hated 
the landed aristocracy, capped the system with his Agriculture Act 
(1920), which brought in secure tenancy; and a further act in 1923 
destroyed restrictive tenancy agreements and legalized 'freedom of 
cropping'. The result was the break-up of thousands of estates, big 
and small. 'England is changing hands', wrote The Times, 19 May 
1920. 'From 1910 onwards,' H.J.Massingham claimed, 'a vindic- 
tive, demagogic and purely urban legislation has crippled [the 
landlord], good, bad or indifferent, responsible or irresponsible.' 84 
In February 1922 the Quarterly Circular of the Central Landown- 
ers' Association estimated that 700,000 acres of agricultural land 
was changing hands every year. The previous year a single firm of 
auctioneers had disposed of land equal in area to the average 
English county. The former Liberal cabinet minister, C.F.G. 
Masterman, in a much-read book published in 1923, complained: 
'In the useless slaughter of the Guards on the Somme, or of the 
Rifle Brigade in Hooge Wood, half the great families of England, 
heirs of large estates and wealth, perished without a cry .... 
There is taking place the greatest change which has ever occurred in 
the history of the land of England since the days of the Norman 
Conquest.' 85 The price of land continued to fall, agricultural debt 
increased and millions of acres went out of production. The Daily 
Express cartoonist, Strube, featured a lanky and famished wastrel 
labelled 'Idle Acres'. J.Robertson Scott, editor of The Countryman, 
gave a striking picture of rural desolation in a series of articles in 
Massingham's Nation, which became a lugubrious best-seller under 
the ironic title England's Green and Pleasant Land (1925). In 
Norfolk in 1932, the writer-farmer Henry Williamson noted, 'a 


farm of nearly a square mile, with a goodish Elizabethan house and 
ten or a dozen cottages, sold for a thousand pounds'. 86 It is hard to 
exaggerate the effect of this untreated and ubiquitous decay at the 
heart of England's ancient system of governance. 

The evidence of industrial decay was omnipresent too. After a 
brief post-war recovery, the fundamental weakness of Britain's 
traditional export industries - coal, cotton and textiles, shipbuilding, 
engineering - all of which had old equipment, old animosities and 
old work-practices, combining to produce low productivity, was 
reflected in chronically high unemployment. This was attributed in 
great part to the decision of Winston Churchill as Chancellor of the 
Exchequer to return Britain to the gold standard in 1925. Keynes 
argued fiercely against it as a form of 'contemporary mercantilism'. 
We were 'shackling ourselves to gold'. Churchill replied we were 
'shackling ourselves to reality', which was true, the reality of 
Britain's antiquated industrial economy. 87 The effects of the move 
balanced out: higher export prices, cheaper imported food and raw 
materials. As Churchill said, it was primarily a political move, 
designed to restore Britain's financial prestige to its pre-war level. It 
was necessarily deflationary and so had the unforeseen effect of 
making it easier for the government to defeat the General Strike, the 
ultimate weapon of the Sorelians, talked about since 1902, which 
finally took place in May 1926. There had been dress-rehearsals in 
1920 and 1922, from which the Tory Party had profited more than 
the union leaders. When it became inevitable, Stanley Baldwin 
craftily manoeuvred the leaders of the transport, railway and mining 
unions into fighting the battle at the end instead of the beginning of 
winter. It collapsed ignominiously after a week. 'It was as though a 
beast long fabled for its ferocity had emerged for an hour, scented 
danger and slunk back to its lair.' 88 Neither going back to gold nor 
the breaking of the general strike weapon had any effect on the 
unemployment figures which (given as a percentage of the labour 
force) remained on a grievous plateau even before the end of the 
Twenties boom. From 1921—9 they were as follows: 17.0; 14.3; 
11.7; 10.3; 11.3; 12.5; 9.7; 10.8; 10.4. 89 

For the workers, then, the problem was not one of a 'missing 
generation'. No gaps were observable in their ranks. There were not 
too few of them; too many, rather. Yet their plight helped to increase 
the erosion of will among the ruling establishment by radicalizing the 
Anglican clergy. The Church of England had had a bad war. It had 
blown an uncertain patriotic trumpet. It had been exposed by the 
Catholic clergy as amateurish in its trench-ministry. It had done no 
better in the munitions factories. 90 It had lost ground during a 
supreme moment; and it was uneasily aware of the fact. During the 


Twenties its more eager spirits developed a new evangelism of peace 
and 'compassion'. Some went very far to the Left. Conrad Noel, 
vicar of the spectacular fourteenth-century church of Thaxted in 
Essex, refused to display the Union Jack inside it on the grounds that 
it was 'an emblem of the British Empire with all the cruel exploita- 
tion for which it stood'. He put up the Red Flag, for which he quoted 
biblical authority: 'He hath made of one blood all nations.' Every 
Sunday posses of right-wing undergraduates would come over from 
Cambridge to tear it down, and would be resisted by 'Lansbury 
Lambs', a force of radical ex-policemen who had been sacked for 
striking in 1919. 91 This battle of the flags convulsed establishment 
England, a shocking new form of entertainment. 

More significant was William Temple, Bishop of Manchester from 
1920 and later Archbishop of York and Canterbury, by far the most 
influential Christian clergyman in interwar Britain. He was the first 
of the Anglo-Saxon clergy to opt for progressive politics as a 
substitute for an evangelism of dogma, and was thus part of that 
huge movement which, as Nietzsche had foreseen, was transforming 
religious energy into secular Utopianism. Temple was a jovial, Oliver 
Hardy figure, with an appetite not merely for carbohydrates but for 
social martyrdom. In 1918 he joined the Labour Party and an- 
nounced the fact. In the Twenties he created copec, the Conference 
on Christian Politics, Economics and Citizenship, prototype of many 
such bodies from that day to this. At its 1924 meeting in Birmingham 
he announced: 'With the steadily growing sense that Machiavellian 
statecraft is bankrupt, there is an increasing readiness to give heed to 
the claims of Jesus Christ that He is the Way, the Truth and the 
Life.' 92 His actual interventions in social politics were ineffectual. 
Thus, the General Strike took him by surprise and caught him at 
Aix-les-Bains trying to cure his gout and reduce his obesity. Puffing 
home, he directed an intervention by churchmen which, by persuad- 
ing the miners' leaders they had the whole of Christendom behind 
them, had the effect of prolonging the coal strike from July to 
December 1926, by which time the colliers and their families were 
destitute and starving. 93 Nothing daunted, Temple soldiered on in 
the progressive cause. To George Bernard Shaw a socialist bishop in 
person was, he gleefully exclaimed, 'a realized impossibility'. In fact 
Temple was a portent of many more to come; and it was a sign of the 
times that his views assisted, rather than impeded, his stately 
progress to the throne of St Augustine. 

Temple's philosophy enshrined the belief, so characteristic of the 
twentieth century, that Christian morality was reflected in the 
pursuit of secular economic 'solutions'. The Christian notion of guilt, 
embodied in the unease of comfortable, well-fed Anglican digni- 


taries, powerfully reinforced the feeling of obligation which the 
possessing classes and the better-off nations were beginning to 
entertain towards the deprived, at home and abroad. Economics was 
not about wealth-creation, it was about duty and righteousness. 
Naturally Temple found eager allies on the agnostic side of the 
progressive spectrum. Keynes wrote him a remarkable letter, which 
hotly denied that economics was a morally neutral science: '. . . eco- 
nomics, more properly called political economy, is a side of ethics.' 94 
That was what the prelate wished to hear and the Fellow of King's 
was anxious to teach. 

As such Keynes spoke for the insidious anti-establishment which in 
the 1920s emerged from the privacy of Cambridge and Bloomsbury 
to effect a gradual but cumulatively decisive reversal in the way the 
British ruling class behaved. Hitherto, the axioms of British public 
policy at home, and of British imperialism abroad, had reflected the 
moral climate of Balliol College, Oxford, under the Mastership of 
Benjamin Jowett. Its tone was judicial: Britain's role in the world was 
to dispense civilized justice, enforced if necessary in the firmest 
possible manner. It was epitomized in the person of Lord Curzon, 
fastidious, witty, urbane and immensely cultured but adamant in the 
upholding of British interests, which he equated with morality as 
such. 'The British government', he minuted to the cabinet in 1923, 'is 
never untrue to its word, and is never disloyal to its colleagues or its 
allies, never does anything underhand or mean . . . that is the real 
basis of the moral authority which the British Empire has long 
exerted.' 95 Naturally, when need arose, that moral authority had to 
be stiffened by tanks and aeroplanes and warships operating from 
the string of bases Britain maintained throughout the world. 

At Cambridge a rather different tradition had developed. While 
Oxford sent its stars to parliament, where they became ministers and 
performed on the public stage, Cambridge developed private groups 
and worked by influence and suggestion. In 1820 a Literary Society 
had been formed, of twelve members known as the Apostles, which 
propagated the early heterodoxies of Wordsworth and Coleridge. Its 
recruits, collectively chosen and secretly elected - not even the mere 
existence of the society was ever acknowledged - were of high calibre 
but teachers and critics rather than major creators: the one massive 
talent, Alfred Tennyson, quickly slipped away in 1830. 96 The 
Apostles' world-picture was diffident, retiring, unaggressive, agnos- 
tic, highly critical of pretensions and grandiose schemes, humani- 
tarian and above all more concerned with personal than with public 
duties. It cultivated introspection; it revered friendship. It was 
homosexual in tone though not often in practice. Tennyson captured 
its mood in his poem 'The Lotus Eaters'. 


In 1902 the Apostles elected a young Trinity undergraduate called 
Lytton Strachey. His father had been a general in India for thirty 
years - Curzon's world, in fact — but his intellectual and moral 
formation was that of his mother, an agnostic stalwart of the 
Women's Progressive Movement, and a free-thinking French republi- 
can schoolmistress called Marie Silvestre. 97 Two years before being 
elected to the Apostles he had formed, with Leonard Woolf and Clive 
Bell, a 'Midnight Society' which later devolved into the Bloomsbury 
Group. Both the Apostles and Bloomsbury, one secret and informal, 
the other informal and admitting a few women, revolved for the next 
thirty years round Strachey. Initially, however, he was not the 
philosopher of the sect. That was the role of G.E.Moore, a Trinity 
don and fellow- Apostle whose major work, Principia Ethica, was 
published the autumn after Strachey's election. Its last two chapters, 
'Ethics in Relation to Conduct' and 'The Ideal', were, by implication, 
a frontal assault on the Judaeo— Christian doctrine of personal 
accountability to an absolute moral code and the concept of public 
duty, substituting for it a non-responsible form of hedonism based 
on personal relationships. 'By far the most valuable things which we 
know or can imagine', Moore wrote, 'are certain states of conscious- 
ness which may be roughly described as the pleasures of human 
intercourse and the enjoyment of personal objects. No one, probably, 
who has asked himself the question, has ever doubted that personal 
affection and the appreciation of what is beautiful in Art and Nature 
are good in themselves.' 98 

Strachey, who was a propagandist of genius rather than a creator, 
pounced on this discreet volume with the same enthusiasm Lenin 
showed for Hobson's Imperialism, published the year before. It was 
just the argument he wanted and could preach. To his fellow- Apostle 
Keynes he wrote urgently of 'the business of introducing the world to 
Moorism'. The book was the ideology not of odious Victorian duty, 
but of friendship; and, as he confided to Keynes, with whom he was 
already competing for the affections of handsome young men, of a 
very special kind of friendship: 'We can't be content with telling the 
truth - we must tell the whole truth: and the whole truth is the 
Devil .... It's madness for us to dream of making dowagers under- 
stand that feelings are good, when we say in the same breath that the 
best ones are sodomitical . . . our time will come about a hundred 
years hence.' 99 Not only did friendship have higher claims than 
conventional morality, it was ethically superior to any wider loyalty. 
The point was to be made by Strachey's fellow-Apostle, 
E.M.Forster: 'If I had to choose between betraying my country and 
betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my 
country.' 100 


Moore's doctrine, outwardly so un-political, almost quietist, was 
in practice an excellent formula for an intellectual take-over. It 
provided ethical justification not merely for a society of mutual 
admirers, as the Apostles had been in the past, but for the formation 
of a more positive and programmatic freemasonry, a mafia almost. 
The Apostles system gave it access to some of the best brains 
Cambridge could provide: Bertrand Russell, Roger Fry, Ludwig 
Wittgenstein, for instance. A network of links by friendship and 
marriage produced convivial metropolitan centres — 21 Fitzroy 
Square, 38 Brunswick Square, 10 Great Ormond Street, 3 Gower 
Street, 46 Gordon Square, 52 Tavistock Square - as well as 
hospitable Trinity and King's, and such rural hostelries as Lady 
Ottoline Morrell's Garsington, publicized in Crome Yellow. Apostles 
(or their relations) held strategic positions: Strachey's uncle con- 
trolled the Spectator, Leonard Woolf the literary pages of the 
Nation, Desmond MacCarthy (and later Raymond Mortimer) those 
of the New Statesman. 101 There were several friendly publishing 

Not for nothing was Strachey the son of a general. He had a genius 
for narcissistic elitism and ran the coterie with an iron, though 
seemingly languid, hand. From the Apostles he grasped the principle 
of group power: the ability not merely to exclude but to be seen to 
exclude. He perfected the art of unapproachability and rejection: a 
Bloomsbury mandarin could wither with a glance or a tone of voice. 
Within his magic circle exclusiveness became a kind of mutual 
life-support system. He and Woolf called it 'the Method'. 102 

Strachey, moreover, did not have to wait 'a hundred years' before 
his time came. The war brought his moment, for it allowed him to 
publicize his counter-establishment philosophy in the form of avoid- 
ing national service. His method of doing so was subtle and 
characteristic. With other Bloomsberries, he belonged to the No- 
Conscription Fellowship and the National Council against Conscrip- 
tion. He did not play an active part in their campaign, which might 
have been legally dangerous, and which he left to more energetic 
souls like Russell. 103 But he made a sensational appearance before a 
tribunal in Hampstead Town Hall in March 1916, fortified by 
special vitamin-food and Swedish exercise and flanked by his three 
adoring sisters. 'Tell me, Mr Strachey,' he was asked by the 
chairman, 'what would you do if you saw a German soldier 
attempting to rape your sister?' 'I should try to come between them.' 
The joke was much relished; the high, squeaky voice universally 
imitated; no one had transfixed a courtroom in quite that way since 
the days of Oscar Wilde. In fact Strachey did not in the end stand on 
his pacifist principles at all but obtained exemption thanks to 


'sheaves of doctors' certificates and an inventory of his medical 
symptoms'. 104 He spent the entire war writing his quartet of 
biographical essays, Eminent Victorians, which, by holding up 
Thomas Arnold, Florence Nightingale, Cardinal Manning and Gen- 
eral Gordon to ridicule and contempt, was, in effect, a wholesale 
condemnation of precisely those virtues and principles the men in the 
trenches were dying to uphold. He finished it in December 1917, just 
as the calamitous battle of Passchendaele ended in a sea of blood and 
mud. It was published the following year to immediate acclaim and 
lasting influence. Few books in history have ever been better timed. 

Later, Cyril Connolly was to call Eminent Victorians 'the first 
book of the Twenties ... he struck a note of ridicule which the whole 
war-weary generation wanted to hear .... It appeared to the post- 
war young people like the light at the end of a tunnel.' The sharper 
members of the old guard instantly saw it for what it was - 
'downright wicked in its heart', wrote Rudyard Kipling in a private 
letter. 105 Everyone else loved it, often for that very reason. Even 
among the soft underbelly of the establishment there was a self- 
indulgent welcome. H.H.Asquith, once the star of Jowett's Balliol, 
now rosy-plump and bibulous, ousted from the premiership by Lloyd 
George for lack of energy, gave the book what Strachey termed 'a 
most noble and high-flown puff in the course of his Romanes 
Lecture. It appeared as Ludendorff's last offensive tore through the 
British Fifth Army; new editions poured out long after the Germans 
had begun their final retreat, and it proved itself far more destructive 
of the old British values than any legion of enemies. It was the 
instrument by which Strachey was able to 'introduce the world to 
Moorism', becoming in the process the most influential writer of the 
Twenties. As Keynes's biographer Roy Harrod later wrote: 'The 
veneration which his young admirers accorded [Strachey] almost 
matched that due to a saint.' 106 Strachey became the ruling mandarin 
of the age and the Bloomsberries his court - for, as has been well 
observed, 'their unworldliness was in fact a disguise for a thorough- 
going involvement with the world of fashion'. 107 

Yet their power was not directly exerted on public policy, as a rule. 
Keynes said that Strachey regarded politics as no more than 'a fairly 
adequate substitute for bridge'. Even Keynes never sought govern- 
ment office. They moved behind the scenes or in print and sought to 
create intellectual climates rather than shape specific policies. 
Keynes's Economic Consequences of the Peace rammed home the 
message of Eminent Victorians just as it made brilliant use of 
Strachey 's new literary techniques. In 1924 E.M.Forster published A 
Passage to India, a wonderfully insidious assault on the principle of 
the Raj, neatly turning upside down the belief in British superiority 


and maturity which was the prime justification of the Indian Empire. 
Two years later Forster's Apostolic mentor, Goldsworthy Lowes 
Dickinson, who invented the term 'A League of Nations' and 
founded the League of Nations Union, published his The Inter- 
national Anarchy 1904-14, a grotesquely misleading account of the 
origins of the Great War, which superbly reinforced the political 
moral of Keynes's tract. 108 The foreign policy of Bloomsbury was 
that Britain and Germany were on exactly the same moral plane up 
to 1918 and that, since then, Britain had been at a moral disadvant- 
age, on account of an iniquitous peace, a continuing imperialism and 
armaments which, in themselves, were the direct cause of war. To a 
great mass of educated opinion in Britain this slowly became the 
prevailing wisdom. 

In a deeper sense, too, Bloomsbury represented an aspect of the 
nation now becoming predominant. Like the shattered ranks of the 
old gentry, like the idle acres, like the dole-queues, Bloomsbury 
lacked the energizing principle. It is curious how often in photo- 
graphs Strachey is shown, supine and comatose, in a low-slung 
deckchair. Frank Swinnerton recorded that, at their first meeting, 
'He drooped if he stood upright, and sagged if he sat down. He 
seemed entirely without vitality.' 109 He 'dragged his daddy longlegs 
from room to room', wrote Wyndham Lewis, 'like a drug-doped 
stork.' Strachey himself admitted to his brother: 'We're all far too 
weak physically to be any use at all.' 110 Few Bloomsberries married; 
and even those not addicted to what was termed 'the higher sodomy' 
lacked the philoprogenitive urge. The circle was outraged when 
Keynes, for reasons which are still mysterious, married the bouncing 
Russian dancer Lydia Lopokova. 

What is perhaps even more striking is the low productivity of 
Bloomsbury, so curiously akin to Britain's exhausted industries. 
Strachey himself produced only seven books, two of them collected 
articles. MacCarthy's expected major work never materialized: there 
were volumes of pieces but no original book. Raymond Mortimer 
followed exactly the same pattern. Forster, known as the Taupe (the 
Mole), was another low-voltage writer: five novels only (apart from 
his homosexual fiction, Maurice, published posthumously). He was 
made a Fellow of King's in 1946 and thereafter he wrote nothing, 
pursuing a mole-like existence for a quarter of a century, emerging 
only to collect honorary degrees. Another member of the group, the 
philosopher J.E.McTaggart, was able to work only two or three 
hours a day and spent the rest of his time devouring light novels at 
the rate of nearly thirty a week. He 'walked with a strange, crab-like 
gait, keeping his backside to the wall'. 111 Lowes Dickinson, too, was 
an etiolated, lethargic figure in a Chinese mandarin's cap. Virginia 


Woolf wrote of him, 'What a thin whistle of hot air Goldie lets out 
through his front teeth!' 112 Above all, Moore himself became 
virtually sterile after he had delivered his Principia. All that followed 
was a popular version, a collection of essays, a set of lecture notes — 
then silence for forty years. 'I'm afraid I have nothing to say,' he 
wrote to Woolf, 'which is worth saying; or, if I have, I can't express 
it.' 113 He terminated an Apostolic paper with this characteristic 
Bloomsbury maxim: 'Among all the good habits which we are to 
form we should certainly not neglect the habit of indecision.' 114 

Significantly, of all the Cambridge Apostles of that generation, the 
one wholly vital and exuberantly creative figure, Bertrand Russell, 
was never really part of the Bloomsbury Group. Though he shared its 
pacifism, atheism, anti-imperialism and general progressive notions, 
he despised its torpid dampness; it, in turn, rejected him. He thought 
Strachey had perverted Moore's Principia to condone homosexual- 
ity. In any case he felt it was an inferior essay. 'You don't like me, do 
you Moore?' he asked. Moore replied, after long and conscientious 
thought: 'No'. 115 It was notable that Russell, unlike Strachey, 
actually fought for pacifism in the Great War and went to jail for it. 
He read Eminent Victorians in Brixton prison and laughed 'so loud 
that the officer came to my cell, saying I must remember that prison 
is a place of punishment'. But his considered verdict was that the 
book was superficial, 'imbued with the sentimentality of a stuffy 
girls' school'. 116 With his four marriages, his insatiable womanizing, 
his fifty-six books, over one of the widest selection of topics ever 
covered by a single writer, his incurable zest for active experience, 
Russell was of sterner stuff than Bloomsbury. Nor did he share its 
weakness for totalitarianism. On Armistice night, Bloomsbury had 
joined forces with the new firmament of the Sitwells and what 
Wyndham Lewis termed their 'Gilded Bolshevism'. They were cele- 
brating not so much the victory of the Allies as Lenin's wisdom in 
signing a separate peace to 'create and fashion a new God', as Osbert 
Sitwell put it. At the Adelphi, Strachey was to be seen actually 
dancing, 'jigging with the amiable debility of someone waking from a 
trance' - under the ferocious scowl of D.H.Lawrence. 117 Russell 
would have none of it. He went to Russia himself in 1920, saw 
Lenin, and pronounced his regime 'a close tyrannical bureaucracy, 
with a spy system more elaborate and terrible than the Tsar's and an 
aristocracy as insolent and unfeeling'. 118 A year later he was in 
China. Surveying the total administrative and political chaos there, 
he wrote to a friend: 'Imagine . . . Lytton sent to govern the Empire &: 
you will have some idea how China has been governed for 2000 
years.' 119 

Curiously enough, it was Russell's activities and supposedly 


subversive remarks which the Foreign Office found alarming. No 
one in authority thought to take an interest in the Apostles, which 
was already producing such extremists as E.M.Forster's mentor, 
Nathaniel Wedd, Fellow of King's, described by Lionel Trilling as 'a 
cynical, aggressive, Mephistophelian character who affected red ties 
and blasphemy'. 120 During the Thirties the Apostles were to produce 
at least three Soviet agents: Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and Leo 
Long . In the innocence of the time, however, it was Russell's 
public antinomianism — worthy of Oxford in its openness - which 
fascinated Whitehall. Even his conversations on board ship were 
monitored, and at one time it was considered whether to invoke the 
War Powers Order-in-Council (not yet repealed) to get him arrested 
and deported from Shanghai. 121 

These symptoms of paranoia in the Foreign Office reflected a quite 
genuine concern, among those who knew the facts and thought 
seriously about Britain's future security. There was an awful lot of 
empire to defend, and very little with which to defend it. That was 
one reason why the Foreign Office hated the League, with its further 
universal commitments. Successive Tory Foreign Secretaries denied 
Robert Cecil, Minister for League Affairs, a room in the Foreign 
Office, and when this was conceded by the Labour government of 
1924, officials prevented him from seeing important cables. 122 Sen- 
ior British policy-makers were uneasily conscious that keeping the 
Empire together as a formidable entity was, at bottom, bluff and 
demanded skilful juggling. They believed they could do it - they were 
not yet defeatist — but greatly resented any 'sabotage' by 'our side'. 
Hence their resentment at people like Russell and Cecil, who came 
from old governing families (the first the grandson, the second the 
son, of Prime Ministers) and therefore ought to know better. 123 

What particularly worried British planners was the rapid absolute, 
and still more relative, decline in the strength of the Royal Navy from 
its position of overwhelming might at the end of 1918. Britain had 
always skimped her army. But from the days of Queen Anne she had 
maintained the world's largest navy, whatever the cost, as a pre- 
requisite to keeping her empire. For most of the nineteenth century 
she had insisted on a 'two-power standard', that is, a navy equal or 
superior to those of any two other powers combined. In the end that 
had proved beyond her means, but she had endeavoured to mitigate 
any declension from the two-power standard by diplomatic arrange- 
ments. Hence, in 1902, she had finally abandoned her 'splendid 
isolation' by signing a treaty of alliance with Japan, the chief object 
of which was to allow her to concentrate more of her naval forces in 
European waters. The Japanese navy had been largely created with 
British help and advice. For Britain, with her immense Asian 


possessions and interests, and limited means to protect them, Japan 
was a very important ally. During the war, her large navy had 
escorted the Australian and New Zealand forces to the war-zone: 
indeed, the Australian Prime Minister, W.M.Hughes, thought that if 
Japan had 'elected to fight on the side of Germany, we should most 
certainly have been defeated'. 124 

America's entry into the war, however, introduced a fearful 
complication. America and Japan viewed each other with increasing 
hostility. California operated race-laws aimed at Japanese immi- 
grants and from 1906—8 the mass-migration from Japan had been 
halted. So the Japanese turned to China and sought in 1915 to turn it 
into a protectorate. The Americans endeavoured to halt that too: 
they regarded themselves as the true protectors of China. At Ver- 
sailles, Wilson angered the Japanese by refusing to write a condem- 
nation of racism into the Covenant of the League. 125 Thereafter 
America tended to give the Pacific priority in her naval policy. As a 
result, she put the sharp question to Britain: whom do you want as 
your friends, us or the Japanese? 

For Britain the dilemma was acute. America was an uncertain ally. 
Indeed, strictly speaking she was not an ally at all. Of course there 
were ties of blood. But even by 1900 the proportion of white 
Americans of Anglo-Saxon stock had fallen to a third: the German- 
Americans, with 18,400,000 out of 67 million, were almost as 
numerous. 126 America's original decision to build a big ocean navy 
appeared to have been aimed at Britain more than any other power. 
As late as 1931, in fact, the United States had a war plan aimed at the 
British Empire, 'Navy Basic Plan Red (wpl-22), dated 15 February 
1931'. 127 On the other hand, there was a whole network of 
institutions on both sides of the Atlantic binding the two nations 
together, and an identity of views and interests which constituted the 
fundamental fact in the foreign policies of both. 

The Anglo-Japanese Treaty came up for renewal in 1922. The 
Americans wanted it scrapped. The British cabinet was divided. 
Curzon thought Japan a 'restless and aggressive power . . . like the 
Germans in mentality'; 'not at all an altruistic power'. Lloyd George 
thought the Japanese had 'no conscience'. Yet both men were clear 
the alliance should be renewed; so were the Foreign Office and the 
Chiefs of Staff. So were the Dutch and the French, thinking of their 
own colonies. At the 1921 Commonwealth Conference, the Aust- 
ralians and the New Zealanders came out strongly in favour of 
renewal. In short, all the powers involved in the area - except 
America - and all those involved in British foreign and military 
policy formation, were adamant that the Anglo-Japanese alliance 
was a stabilizing, a 'taming' factor, and ought to be maintained. 128 


But Smuts of South Africa was against, for racial reasons. So was 
Mackenzie King of Canada, a Liberal who depended on the anti- 
British vote in Quebec and who was advised by the Anglophobe 
O.D.Skelton, permanent head of the Canadian Ministry of External 
Affairs. 129 This seems to have tipped the balance. Instead of renew- 
ing the Treaty, an American proposal to call a conference in 
Washington to limit navies was adopted. Hughes of Australia was 
outraged: 'You propose to substitute for the Anglo-Japanese alliance 
and the overwhelming power of the British navy a Washington 
conference?' It was worse than that. At the Conference itself in 1922 
the Americans proposed a naval 'holiday', massive scrappings, no 
capital ships over 35,000 tons (which meant the end of Britain's 
superships) and a 5:5:3 capital ship ratio for Britain, the USA and 
Japan. When Admiral Beatty, the First Sea Lord, first heard the 
details, an eyewitness said he lurched forward in his chair 'like a 
bulldog, sleeping on a sunny doorstep, who has been poked in the 
stomach by the impudent foot of an itinerant soap-canvasser'. 130 
The Japanese hated the proposals too, which they regarded as an 
Anglo-Saxon ganging up against them. Yet the scheme went through. 
The pressure for disarmament at almost any cost and the related fear 
of driving America still further from Europe proved too strong. 
Japan, in turn, demanded and got concessions which made matters 
worse. She insisted that Britain and America agree to build no main 
fleet bases north of Singapore or west of Hawaii. This made it 
impossible, in effect, for America's fleet to come to the rapid support 
of the British, French or Dutch possessions if they were attacked. But 
even more important, the fact that Japan felt she had to demand such 
concessions symbolized, so far as Britain was concerned, her transi- 
tion from active friend into potential enemy. 

This was not grasped at the time. One of those who failed to do so 
was Winston Churchill: indeed, though alert to danger in India, he 
was always blind to perils further east. In August 1919, as War 
Secretary, he had been instrumental in drawing up the 'Ten Year 
Rule', under which defence planning was conducted on the assump- 
tion there would be no major war for at least ten years. In the 
Twenties this was made a 'rolling' guideline, and it was not in fact 
scrapped till 1932. As Chancellor of the Exchequer he put on the 
pressure to curb naval spending, and especially to extend the 5:5:3 
ratio to cruisers, the basic naval life-support system of the empire: 
'We cannot have a lot of silly little cruisers', he told the Assistant 
Cabinet Secretary, Tom Jones, 'which would be of no use 
anyway.' 131 In fact at the 1927 naval conference the Admiralty 
fought off this attack. But in 1930, with Labour in power again, the 
point was conceded — indeed, extended to destroyers and submarines 


too. By the early 1930s, Britain was a weaker naval power, in relative 
terms, than at any time since the darkest days of Charles n. Nor 
could she look to her empire. India was a source not of strength but 
of weakness, absorbing a regular 60,000 men from Britain's tiny 
army. The rich dominions were even more parsimonious than Britain 
under the stern stewardship of Churchill. Their forces were tiny and 
hopelessly ill-equipped. The 1925—6 Defence White Paper showed 
that while Britain spent annually only 51s. per capita on her armed 
forces, Australia spent only half as much, 25s, New Zealand 12s lid 
and Canada a mere 5 s lOd. By the early 1930s, these three 'have' 
powers, with so much to defend against men with lean and hungry 
looks, had carried out a programme of virtually total unilateral 
disarmament. Australia had only three cruisers and three destroyers, 
and an air force of seventy planes. New Zealand had two cruisers 
and virtually no air force. Canada had four destroyers and an army 
of 3,600. It had only one military aircraft - on loan from the raf. 132 
Britain was not much more provident so far as the Far East was 
concerned. The building of a modern naval base in Singapore had 
been postponed, at Churchill's urging, for five years. 

History shows us the truly amazing extent to which intelligent, 
well-informed and resolute men, in the pursuit of economy or in an 
altruistic passion for disarmament, will delude themselves about 
realities. On 15 December 1924 Churchill wrote a remarkable letter 
to the Prime Minister, scouting any possibility of menace from 
Japan. For page after page it went on, using every device of statistics 
and rhetoric, to convince Baldwin - already sufficiently pacific and 
complacent by nature — of the utter impossibility of war with Japan: 
*I do not believe there is the slightest chance of it in our lifetime. The 
Japanese are our allies. The Pacific is dominated by the Washington 
Agreement .... Japan is at the other end of the world. She cannot 
menace our vital security in any way. She has no reason whatever to 
come into collision with us.' Invade Australia? 'That I am certain will 
never happen in any period, even the most remote which we or our 
children need foresee . . . war with Japan is not a possibility which 
any reasonable government need take into account.' 133 


An Infernal Theocracy, 
a Celestial Chaos 

While Winston Churchill was assuring the comatose Baldwin that 
Japan meant no harm, its economy was growing at a faster rate than 
any other nation, its population was rising by a million a year and its 
ruler was a god-king who was also insane. The old Emperor Meiji, 
under whom Japan had entered the modern world, had chosen his 
women carefully for their health as well as their beauty, and each 
evening would drop a silk handkerchief in front of the one who was 
to occupy his bed that night. But most of the children thus begotten 
were sickly nonetheless and no doctor was ever allowed to touch 
their divine persons. His heir Yoshihito, who reigned in theory until 
1926, was clearly unbalanced. Though his regnal name, Taisho, 
signified 'Great Righteousness', he oscillated between storms of rage, 
in which he would lash at those around him with his riding-crop, and 
spasms of terror, dreading assassination. He sported a ferocious 
waxed moustache, in imitation of his idol, the Kaiser Wilhelm n, but 
he fell off his horse on parade, and when inspecting his soldiers 
sometimes struck and sometimes embraced them. On his last appear- 
ance before the Diet, he had rolled up his speech and, using it as a 
telescope, peered owlishly at the bobbing and bowing parliamenta- 
rians. After that he had been eased out in favour of his son Hirohito, 
known as Showa ('Enlightened Peace'), a timid creature interested in 
marine biology. He too feared assassins, as did all prominent male 
members of the family. The statesman Prince Ito had prudently 
married a sturdy tea-house girl who protected him from murderous 
samurai by stuffing him into the rubbish hole of his house and 
squatting on top (but they got him in the end). 1 

No western scholar who studies modern Japan can resist the 
feeling that it was a victim of the holistic principle whereby political 
events and moral tendencies have their consequences throughout the 



world. Japan became infected with the relativism of the West, which 
induced a sinister hypertrophy of its own behavioural weaknesses and 
so cast itself into the very pit of twentieth-century horror. At the 
beginning of modern times Japan was a very remote country, in some 
respects closer to the society of ancient Egypt than to that of post- 
Renaissance Europe. The Emperor, or Tenno, was believed to be 
ara-hito-gami, 'human, a person of the living present who rules over 
the land and its people and, at the same time, is a god'. 2 The first 
Tenno had begun his reign in 660 bc, at the time of the Egyptian 
twenty-fifth dynasty, and the line had continued, sometimes by the 
use of adoption, for two and a half millennia. It was by far the oldest 
ruling house in the world, carrying with it, imprisoned in its dynastic 
amber, strange archaic continuities. In the sixteenth century Francis 
Xavier, the 'apostle of the Indies', had considered the Japanese he 
met to be ideal Christian converts by virtue of their tenacity and 
fortitude. But the internal disputes of the missionaries had led Japan 
to reject Christianity. In the second quarter of the seventeenth 
century it sealed itself off from the European world. It failed 
completely to absorb the notions of individual moral responsibility 
which were the gift of the Judaic and Christian tradition and retained 
strong vestiges of the collective accountability so characteristic of the 
antique world. In the 1850s, the West forced its way into this 
self-possessed society. A decade later, a large portion of the Japanese 
ruling class, fearing colonization or the fate of China, took a 
collective decision to carry out a revolution from above, adopt such 
western practices as were needful to independent survival, and turn 
itself into a powerful 'modern' nation. The so-called Meiji Restora- 
tion of 3 January 1868, which abolished the Shogunate or rule by 
palace major-domo and made the Emperor the actual sovereign, was 
pushed through with the deliberate object of making Japan 
fukoku-kyohei, 'rich country, strong army'. 

It is important to grasp that this decision by Japan to enter the 
modern world contained, from the start, an element of menace and 
was dictated as much by xenophobia as by admiration. The Japanese 
had always been adept at imitative absorption, but at a purely 
utilitarian level which, from a cultural viewpoint, was superficial. 
From her great innovatory neighbour, China, Japan had taken 
ceremonial, music, Confucian classics, Taoist sayings, types of 
Buddhist speculation, Tantric mysteries, Sung painting, Chinese 
verse-making and calendar-making. From the West, Japan now 
proceeded to take technology, medicine, administrative and business 
procedures, plus the dress thought appropriate for these new prac- 
tices. But the social structure and ethical framework of Chinese 
civilization were largely rejected; and, while Japan displayed pragma- 


tic voracity in swallowing Western means, it showed little interest in 
Western ends: the ideals of classical antiquity or Renaissance 
humanism exercised little influence. 3 

Indeed it is notable that Japan was attracted by modern novelty, 
not by ancient truth. In a sense the Japanese had always been 
modern-minded people: 'modern since pre-history'. 4 They took 
aboard gimmickry and baubles, the technical and the meretricious, 
rather as a society woman adopts passing fashions. But their cultural 
matrix remained quite unaffected: the most characteristic cultural 
creations of Japan have no Chinese antecedents. Similarly, the 
Western importations from the mid-nineteenth century onwards left 
the social grammar of Japan quite untouched. 5 

Nor did Japan's long isolation imply serenity. Quite the contrary. 
Japan had none of China's passivity and fatalistic decay. They were 
very different countries; wholly different peoples. The point has 
often been made that the Chinese live in the realm of space, the 
Japanese in time. China had developed, in the great northern plain 
where her civilization had its roots, a majestic, ordered cosmology, 
and was content to await its slow evolutions. It saw life in terms of 
repetitive cycles, like most oriental cultures. Japan was a collection of 
spidery, spinal islands, rather like ancient Greece, and was almost 
Western in its consciousness of linear development, hurrying from 
point to point with all deliberate speed. Japan had a concept of time 
and its urgency almost unique in non- Western cultures and con- 
sistent with a social stress of dynamism. 6 There was something 
restless, too, in Japan's climate, as changeable and unpredictable as 
Britain's, but far more violent. The islands are strung out from the 
sub-tropics to the sub-arctic; oriental monsoons and western cyc- 
lones play upon them simultaneously. As the German scholar Kurt 
Singer put it, 'Relentlessly this archipelago is rocked with seismic 
shocks, invaded by storms, showered and pelted with rain, encircled 
by clouds and mists .... It is not space that rules this form of 
existence, but time, duration, spontaneous change, continuity of 
movement.' The rapid succession of climatic extremes helps to 
explain, some Japanese believe, the violent oscillations in national 
conduct. 7 

These national attributes, and the fact that the industrialization of 
Japan was imposed from above as the result of deliberate decisions 
by its elites, help to explain the astonishing rapidity of Japan's 
progress. The movement was not a spontaneous reaction to market 
forces but an extraordinary national consensus, carried forward 
without any apparent dissenting voices. It thus had more in common 
with the state capitalism of pre- 19 14 Russia than the liberal capital- 
ism of the West, though the class conflicts which tore Tsarist Russia 


were absent. Under the Tenno and his court, the gumbatsu, or 
military chiefs, and the zaibatsu, or businessmen, worked in close 
harmony, in accordance with the 'rich country-strong army' pro- 
gramme. Within two generations huge industrial groups had 
emerged, Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Yasuda, Sumitomo, all closely linked to 
the Meiji government and the armed forces by subsidies and con- 
tracts. The 1914-18 war, which deprived Japan of traditional 
suppliers from Europe, and opened up new markets to her, acceler- 
ated her development towards self-sufficiency and industrial matur- 
ity. Steam tonnage rose from 1.5 to over 3 million tons. The index of 
manufacturing production, from an average of 160 in 1915-19, 
jumped to 313 in 1925-9, and in foreign trade the index (100 in 
1913) moved to 126 in 1919 and 199 in 1929, with exports rising 
from 127 to 205 during the 1920s. By 1930 Japan had a population 
of 64 million, exactly twice what it had been at the beginning of the 
revolution-from-above in 1868, and it was already a major industrial 
power. 8 

Comparing Japan's revolutionary development with that of, say, 
Turkey — also imposed from above from 1908 onwards - it is easy to 
see the advantages of being an island kingdom, with natural fron- 
tiers, a homogeneous racial, religious and linguistic composition and, 
not least, a strong and ancient tradition of unity towards outsiders, 
none of which Turkey possessed. 9 Japan also had an important 
economic advantage which was often overlooked at the time (and 
since) : a highly developed intermediate technology, with hundreds of 
thousands of skilled craftsmen and a tradition of workshop disci- 
pline going back many centuries. 

Yet Japan had some fundamental weaknesses too, reflecting its 
archaism. Until 1945 it had no system of fixed law. It had maxims, 
behavioural codes, concepts of justice expressed in ideograms - 
exactly as in ancient Egypt. But it had no proper penal code; no 
system of statutory law; no judge-controlled code of common law 
either. The relationship between authority and those subject to it was 
hidden, often on important points. The constitution itself was 
uncertain. It did not impose a definite system of rights and duties. 
Prince Ito, who drew up the Meiji constitution, wrote a commentary 
on what it meant; but this book was a matter of dispute, and often 
out of official favour. The law was not sovereign. How could it be in 
a theocracy? But then — was Japan a theocracy? Ito thought it had 
been in the past, but no longer was; others took a different view. The 
matter was left ambiguous, as were many other legal and constitu- 
tional matters in Japan, until 1946, when the Emperor publicly 
announced that he was not a god. There was something vague and 
makeshift about the whole system of order in Japan. Honour, for 


instance, was more important than hierarchy. It might sometimes be 
right to ignore the law (such as it was) and disobey a superior. But no 
one could quite tell until the occasion arose. Then a consensus would 
develop and the collective conscience would judge. Hence activist 
minorities, especially in the armed forces, were often able to defy 
their commanders, even the Emperor, and receive the endorsement of 
public opinion. 10 

This absence of absolute lines between right and wrong, legality 
and illegality, law and disorder, made Japan peculiarly vulnerable to 
the relativism bred in the West after the First World War. But the 
weakness went back further. When in 1868 Japan turned to Europe 
for pragmatic guidance it looked for norms of international beha- 
viour as well as technology. What did it find? Bismarckian Realpoli- 
tik. Thereafter came the scramble for Africa, the arms-race, the 
ferocity of Ludendorff's war-machine and the cult of power through 
violence, culminating in Lenin's triumphant putsch. 

The Japanese observed that European behaviour, however atro- 
cious, was always internally justified by reference to some set of 
beliefs. Hence, to fortify themselves in a stern, competitive world, 
they refurbished their own ideologies, in accordance with what they 
perceived to be European principles of utility. This involved, in 
effect, inventing a state religion and a ruling morality, known as 
Shinto and bushido. Hitherto, in religious matters the Japanese had 
been syncretistic: they took elements of imported cults and used 
them for particular purposes — Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, 
even Christianity — without regard for logic or consistency. It is true 
that Shinto was first mentioned in Japanese annals as early as the 
reign of Yomei Tenno (585-587 ad). It signified god in a pagan 
sense, going back to ancestral sun-gods and sun-goddesses, the 
primitive worship of ancestors and the idea of divine rulers. As such 
it was far less sophisticated than Buddhism and the other imperial 
religions of the Orient and it was only one of many elements in 
Japanese religious culture. But it was specifically and wholly 
Japanese, and therefore capable of being married to national aspira- 
tions. Hence with the Meiji Revolution a conscious decision was 
taken to turn it into a state religion. In 1875 it was officially 
separated from Buddhism and codified. In 1900 Shinto shrines were 
placed under the Ministry of the Interior. Regular emperor-worship 
was established, especially in the armed forces, and from the 1920s 
onwards a national code of ethics, kokumin dotoku, was taught in 
all the schools. With each Japanese military victory or imperial 
advance (the defeat of Russia in 1904—5 was a case in point) the state 
religion was consolidated and elaborated, and it is significant that 
the process culminated in 1941, when Japan joined the Second 


World War and instituted private, popular and public religious 
ceremonies for the entire nation. Shinto, in brief, was transformed 
from a primitive, obsolescent and minority cult into an endorsement 
of a modern, totalitarian state, and so by a peculiarly odious irony, 
religion, which should have served to resist the secular horrors of the 
age, was used to sanctify them. 

Nor was this all. Shinto, as the religion of expansionist national- 
ism, was deliberately underpinned by a refurbished and militarized 
version of the old code of knightly chivalry, bushido. In the early 
years of the century, bushido was defined by a Samurai professor, Dr 
Inazo Nitobe, as 'to be contented with one's position in life, to accept 
the natal irreversible status and to cultivate oneself within that 
allotted station, to be loyal to the master of the family, to value one's 
ancestors, to train oneself in the military arts by cultivation and by 
discipline of one's mind and body'. 11 But until the twentieth century 
there were few references of any kind to bushido. Some doubted its 
very existence. Professor Hall Chamberlain, in an essay The Inven- 
tion of a New Religion, published in 1912, wrote: 'Bushido, as an 
institution or a code of rules, has never existed. The accounts given 
of it have been fabricated out of whole cloth, chiefly for foreign 
consumption .... Bushido was unknown until a decade or so ago.' 12 
It may have been a series of religious exercises, accessible to very few. 
At all events in the 1920s it was popularized as a code of military 
honour, identified with extreme nationalism and militarism, and 
became the justification for the most grotesque practices, first the 
murder of individuals, later mass-cruelty and slaughter. The 'knights 
of bushido' were the militant leadership of totalitarian Shintoism, the 
equivalent, in this oriental setting, of the 'vanguard elites' of Lenin 
and Mussolini, the blackshirts and brownshirts and Chekists of 
Europe. They embodied the 'commanding moral force of [this] 
country . . . the totality of the moral instincts of the Japanese race', 
according to Nitobe. 13 Here was a concept, superficially moralistic 
in tone, wholly relativistic in fact, which was dangerously akin to 
what Lenin termed 'the revolutionary conscience' and Hitler the 
'higher morality of the party'. 

This new metaphysic of militarism and violence, which certainly as 
an organized entity had no precedent in Japanese history, was 
supposed to be accompanied by the systematic development of 
Western political institutions. In 1876 the samurai were disbanded as 
a class, losing their stipends and the right to bear swords; the last 
feudal revolt was put down the next year. Western-style parties and 
newspapers were introduced in the 1870s, a new British-style 
peerage, with barons, viscounts and marquises, was ordained in 
1884 and a cabinet-system the following year. For the first Diet in 


1890 only 400,000 out of 40 million had the vote. In 1918, the 'three 
yen tax qualification' raised it to 3.5 million out of 60 million. In 
1925 Japan got the Manhood Suffrage Act, which gave the vote to all 
men over twenty-five, raising the suffrage to 13 million. 

But authoritarian institutions advanced pari passu with demo- 
cracy. There was a highly restrictive press law in 1875. Police 
supervision of political parties was established in 1880. The constitu- 
tion of 1889 was deliberately restrictive, to produce, wrote its author 
Prince Ito, 'a compact solidity of organization and the efficiency of 
its administrative activity'. 14 The Diet was balanced by a powerful 
House of Peers and the cabinet by the institution of the genro, a 
group of former prime ministers and statesmen who gave advice 
directly to the Tenno. Perhaps most important of all was a regula- 
tion, drawn up in 1894 and confirmed in 1911, that the ministers of 
the army and the navy must be serving officers, nominated by the 
respective staffs. This meant not only that army and navy were 
independent of political control (the chiefs of staff had direct access 
to the Tenno) but that each service could in effect veto a civilian 
cabinet by refusing to nominate its own minister. This power was 
frequently used and was always in the background. Hence the 
government was really only responsible for civil matters, the army 
and navy conducting their own affairs, which frequently and from 
the 1920s increasingly impinged on foreign policy. Since army and 
navy were not under civil control, and officers in the field did not 
necessarily feel obliged in honour to obey their nominal superiors in 
Tokyo, there were times when Japan came closer to military anarchy 
than any other kind of system. 

The trouble was that Japan only slowly developed the kind of civic 
consciousness which in Europe was the product of town life and 
bourgeois notions of rights. The town itself was an import. Even 
Tokyo was, and until very recently remained, an enormous collection 
of villages. Its citizens had rural not urban reflexes and attachments. 
Though feudalism was killed by the Meiji Revolution, it survived in a 
bastard version. Everyone, from the highest downwards, felt safe 
only as part of a clan or batsu. It was and is habitual for the Japanese 
to extend patterns of family behaviour to wider situations. The term 
habatsu, 'permanent faction', was applied to each new activity as it 
came into existence: schools of painting, or wrestling, or flower- 
arranging; then, after 1868, to industrial firms; and after 1890 to 
politics. The Japanese term oyabun-kobun, meaning parent-child or 
boss-follower relationship, became the cement of this bastard feu- 
dalism in politics, a man rendering service or loyalty in return for a 
share of any spoils going. Indeed the Japanese did not clearly 
distinguish between family and non-family groupings, since the 


perpetuation of the family line by adoption was regarded as much 
more important than the perpetuation of the blood line. 15 Ozaki 
Yukio, the most durable of Japanese politicians, who took part in the 
first general election of 1890 and lived to sit in the first post-1945 
Diet, wrote in 1918 that in Japan 'political parties, which should be 
based and dissolved solely on principles and political views, are 
really affairs of personal connections and sentiments, the relations 
between the leader and the members of a party being similar to those 
which subsisted between a feudal lord and his liegemen'. 16 Mass- 
parties of the Left, based on universal economic interests, might have 
changed this pattern. But the Peace Preservation law of 1925, the 
same year that Japan got male suffrage, gave the police such 
formidable power to combat Marxist subversion as effectively to 
inhibit their development. No left-wing party ever scored more than 
500,000 votes until after 1945. 

As a result, Japanese political parties were legal mafias which 
inspired little respect and offered no moral alternative to the 
traditional institutions refurbished in totalitarian form. Bribery was 
ubiquitous since elections were costly (25,000 dollars per seat in the 
inter-war period) and the pay small. Corruption ranged from the sale 
of peerages to land speculation in Osaka's new brothel quarter. Of 
the two main parties, Seiyukai was financed by Manchurian railway 
interests, Kenseikai by Mitsubishi, in both cases illegally. Three of 
the most prominent political leaders, Hara (the first commoner to 
become Prime Minister), Yamamoto and Tanaka, were guilty of 
blatant corruption. 17 Politicians did not cut attractive figures com- 
pared with the bushido militarists. They fought frequently, but only 
in unseemly scrimmages in the Diet, sometimes with the assistance of 
hired ruffians. As one British eye-witness put it in 1928: 'Flushed 
gentlemen, clad without in frockcoats but warmed within by too- 
copious draughts of sake, roared and bellowed, and arguments 
frequently culminated in a rush for the rostrum, whence the speaker 
of the moment would be dragged in the midst of a free fight.' 18 

Moreover, if bastard feudalism persisted in the Diet, it flourished 
also outside it, in the form of secret societies which constituted an 
alternative form of political activity: non-democratic, unconstitu- 
tional, using direct action and employing weapons instead of argu- 
ments. Once the samurai lost their stipends they had either to find 
work or band together and offer themselves to the highest bidder. In 
1881 a group of them formed the Genyosha, the first of the secret 
societies, which soon entered politics indirectly by providing thugs to 
rig Diet elections or murder rival candidates. In 1901 a Genyosha 
man, Mitsuru Toyama, founded the notorious Kokuryukai or Black 
Dragon, the prototype of many violent, ultra-nationalist sects. The 


real expansion of gang-politics, however, occurred after the end of 
the 1914—18 war, which seems to have ushered in an era of political 
violence almost everywhere. 

Whether the Japanese took their cue from Weimar Germany and 
Mussolini's Italy is not clear. Certainly, like the European fascists, 
they used Leninist violence as an excuse for counter-violence. What 
was disturbing was the overlap between these societies and constitu- 
tional politics and, most sinister, the military. Thus, the Dai Nihon 
Kokusuikai, the Japan National Essence Society - using concepts 
from the totalitarianized forms of Shinto and bushido - which was 
founded in 1919, included among its members three future Prime 
Ministers and several generals. This was comparatively respectable. 
Others were mere gangs of ruffians. Some were radical in exactly the 
same way as the revolutionary syndicalists in Italy or the early Nazis 
in Germany. Thus, the Yuzonsha, founded by Kita Ikki in 1919, 
proposed a National Socialist plan of nationalization of industry and 
break-up of the great estates to prepare Japan for 'the leadership of 
Asia', her expansion being at the expense of Britain ('the millionaire') 
and Russia ('the great landowner'), Japan placing itself at the head of 
'the proletariat of nations'. Other radical societies included the 
agrarian nationalists, who wished to destroy industry completely, 
and the Ketsumedian, led by Inoue Nissho, dedicated to the assassi- 
nation of industrialists and financiers. 19 

Virtually all these societies practised assassination, or showed an 
extraordinary tolerance of it. One might say that though the notion 
of the feudal revolt died in the 1870s, assassination was its continu- 
ance by other means. The samurai might no longer impose their 
will as a class; but groups of them reserved the right to register their 
political objections not through the ballot, beneath them, but 
through the sword and dagger and, after it became popular in the 
1920s, the Thomson sub-machine-gun. The samurai had in fact 
always used hired coolie-gangsters to terrorize their peasants. Now 
their modernized kais, or gangs, were hired out to the gumbatsu or 
zaibatsu to enforce their will on ministers. Even more disturbing was 
the fact that, by 1894, the kais were working in conjunction with the 
Kempei-Tai, the Special Police to Guard Security of the state. These 
men reported directly to Imperial Headquarters, not the government, 
could hold prisoners for 121 days without formal charge or warrant 
and were authorized to employ torture to extract confessions. Men 
were frequently arrested by the Kempei-Tai after secret denuncia- 
tions by the kais. 10 

The kais indeed played a protean role in Japanese society, some- 
times upholding state security, sometimes enforcing protection rack- 
ets in, for instance, the new film industry, where their sanguinary 


gangland battles, fought with two-handed swords, formed an orien- 
tal descant to such episodes as the St Valentine's Day massacre in 
contemporary Chicago. 21 Mitsuru Toyama, the most notorious 
gang-leader, founder of the Black Dragon, occupied a curiously 
ambivalent role in Japanese society. Born in 1855, he had the 
manners and affectations of a gentleman and a knight of bushido. 
According to the New York Times correspondent, Hugh Byas, he 
looked 'like one of the Cheeryble Brothers, exuding benignity, and 
made great play of the fact that his creed would not allow him to kill 
a mosquito'. Killing politicians was another matter. He not merely 
organized assassination but protected other known murderers in his 
house, which the police dared not enter. They included Rash Behari 
Bose, wanted by the British for the attempted assassination of Lord 
Hardinge, the Viceroy, in 1912. When he finally died in his nineties, 
full of years and wickedness, the Tokyo Times published a special 
supplement in his honour. 22 That was characteristic of Japanese 
tolerance towards even the most flagrant and vicious law-breaking 
which claimed credentials of honour. The very victims themselves 
helped to perpetuate the system. Thus the great liberal statesman 
Ozaki Yukio, though constantly threatened with death himself, 
wrote a poem which contained the defeatist lines: 'Praise be to men 
who may attempt my life/If their motive is to die for their country'. 23 
Hence political assassination was not necessarily severely punished 
in Japan; sometimes not punished at all. And, even more important, 
it was not morally reprobated by society. As a result it became 
increasingly common. Of the original Meiji Restoration government, 
one was murdered, another driven to hara-kiri; and Prince Ito, 
architect of the constitution, was murdered, despite the efforts of his 
tea-garden wife. Of Taisho Tenno's Prime Ministers during the years 
1912-26, Count Okuma, Viscount Takahashi and Mr Hara were 
assassinated; and under Hirohito, 1926—45, three more Prime Minis- 
ters died, Mr Hamaguchi, Mr Inukai and Admiral Saito, plus a dozen 
cabinet ministers. 24 Some politicians accepted the risks of their 
profession more stoically than others. But fear of being murdered 
undoubtedly deterred ministers from pushing through reforming 
legislation. When the writer David James asked Prime Minister Hara 
in 1920 why he did not repeal the police regulation which provided 
six months' imprisonment for incitement to strike, Hara replied, 'I 
have no intention of committing hara-kiri just now.' When Hara was 
stabbed to death the next year at Toyko's Shimbashi station, his 
'offence' was that, as a mere civilian, he had taken over the Naval 
Office while the Minister, Admiral Kato, was at the Washington 
Naval Conference. 25 The Tenno himself was not immune from 
charges of lack of patriotism. There was an attempt on Hirohito's life 


in 1923, and this naturally timid man was undoubtedly dissuaded 
from giving civilian Prime Ministers the support they had a right to 
expect under the constitution, by fear of his own officers. 

The position deteriorated after 1924-5, when army reforms 
introduced a new type of officer, drawn from the ranks of minor 
officials, shopkeepers and small landowners. These men had little 
respect for traditional authority - or their own high commanders - 
and they were imbued with Leninist and fascist notions of political 
violence, and above all by the new totalitarian version of bushido. 
While quite capable of threatening Hirohito with death, they spoke 
of his 'restoration' to power: what they wanted was military 
dictatorship under nominal imperial rule. Their key word was 
kokutai or 'national policy', and any politician guilty of the slightest 
disloyalty to kokutai was as good as dead. 26 Most of them came 
from rural areas, where living standards were falling during the 
Twenties and young girls had to go out to work just for their food as 
no wages could be paid. Their army brothers burned with zeal and 
hatred and their violence enjoyed wide public support. 27 

Under these circumstances, civilian party government gradually 
collapsed, and elections became meaningless. In 1927 and again in 
1928 Prime Ministers were forced out of office by the army. In 1930, 
the Prime Minister, Hamaguchi Yuko, having got a mandate to cut 
the armed forces, was gunned down immediately he tried to do so. 
His successor was forced out over the same issue. The next Prime 
Minister, Inukai Ki, who again tried to stand up to the Services, was 
murdered in May 1932 by a group of army and naval officers. They 
planned, in fact, to kill him together with Charlie Chaplin, who was 
on a visit to Tokyo and due to take tea with the Prime Minister. The 
naval ringleader of the plot told the judge: 'Chaplin is a popular 
figure in the United States and the darling of the capitalist class. We 
believed that killing him would cause a war with America.' When the 
murderers came up for trial, their counsel argued that, as their 
honour and future were at stake, assassination was a form of 
self-defence. He presented the judge with 110,000 letters, many 
written in blood, begging for clemency. In Niigata, nine young men 
chopped off their little fingers, as evidence of sincerity, and sent them 
to the War Minister pickled in a jar of alcohol. 28 The lenient 
sentences passed at this trial, and at many others, recalled the farcical 
court cases involving right-wing murderers in early Weimar Ger- 
many. 29 

The breakdown of constitutional government in Japan could not 
be regarded as an internal affair since it was inextricably bound up 
with foreign policy aims. Most Japanese regarded territorial expan- 
sion as an essential element of entry into the modern world. Did not 


every other industrial power have an empire? It was as necessary as 
steel-mills or iron-clads. In Japan's case there were additional and 
compelling reasons: the poverty of the country, its almost total lack of 
natural resources and the rapid, irresistible increase in population. In 
1894-5, Japan struck at China, taking Korea, Formosa (Taiwan) and 
Port Arthur. She was forced to surrender the last by the tripartite 
intervention of Russia, Germany and France. Her response was to 
double the size of her army and make herself self-sufficient in 
armaments, which she had achieved by 1904. Immediately she issued 
an ultimatum to Russia, took Port Arthur and won the devastating 
naval battle of Tsushima in May 1905, assuring herself commercial 
supremacy in Manchuria, and taking the Sakhalin (Karafuto) islands 
as part of the settlement. In 1914 she entered the war solely to possess 
herself of Germany's ports and property in China, and the following 
year she presented a series of demands to the Chinese government (the 
Twenty-one Demands') which in effect made her the preponderant 
colonial and commercial power in the region. The paramountcy was 
confirmed by the Versailles Treaty, which gave her Shantung and a 
whole string of Pacific islands as mandates. 

Japan now faced a dilemma. She was determined to expand, but 
under what colours? Her Meiji Revolution was at heart an anti- 
colonial move, to preserve herself. Her original intention, in seizing 
Korea, was to deny it to the European powers and set herself up as 
commercial, political and military head of an 'East Asian League', a 
defensive alliance which would modernize East Asia and prevent 
further Western penetration. Japan would thus have become the first 
anti-colonialist great power, a role occupied by Russia after 1945, and 
in the process win herself (as Russia has) a family of dependent allies 
and satellites. The difficulty was that China, whose co-operation was 
essential, never showed the slightest desire to provide it, regarding 
Japan as a junior sovereignty and a ferocious predator, in some, ways 
to be feared more, because nearer, than any European power. Japan 
never wholly abandoned this line, however. It was reflected in her 
demand for a racial equality clause in the League covenant, in her 
pious insistence that all her activities on the Chinese mainland were in 
the interests of the Chinese themselves, and during the 1941-5 war in 
her creation of puppet governments in the territories she occupied, 
bound together in the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. These 
were not wholly fictions; but they could not become wholly, or even 
mainly, facts either, so long as Japan was obliged to fight and conquer 
China in order to make her a 'partner'. 30 

That avenue closed, was Japan to be a colonial power like the rest? 
That was the view of the Japanese Foreign Office, the Hirohito court, 
the liberal political establishment. But that meant having an ally, 


above all Britain, biggest and most respectable of the established 
empires. Britain was anxious for stability, and means could doubtless 
be found to provide Japan with sufficient interests and possessions to 
bind her, too, to a stable system. And so long as Britain was Japan's 
ally, the latter had a prime interest in preserving her own internal 
respectability, constitutional propriety and the rule of law, all of 
which Britain had taught her. 

That was why the destruction of the Anglo— Japanese alliance by 
the USA and Canada in 1921-2 was so fatal to peace in the Far East. 
The notion that it could be replaced by the Washington Naval 
Treaty, and the further Nine Power treaty of February 1922 (also 
signed by Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal), which 
guaranteed China's integrity, was a fantasy. For the second 
agreement provided no enforcement provision, even in theory, and 
the first made enforcement in practice out of the question. The net 
result was to put Japan in the role of potential predator and cast her 
out of the charmed circle of respectable 'have' powers. Britain's 
influence with Japan disappeared, and America, emerging as China's 
protector, assumed the shape of Japan's irreconcilable enemy. 31 
Internally, the consequence was to shift power in Japan away from 
the Foreign Office, whose foreign friends had let them down, and in 
favour of the military, especially the younger officers imbued with 
fanatic zeal to go it alone, something which was in any event implicit 
in totalitarian Shinto. 

There were, however, more prosaic reasons pushing in favour of 
national desperation. Japan could not feed herself. In 1868, with a 
population of 32 million, consuming each year an average of just 
under 4 bushels of rice a head, Japan got by with 6 million acres 
under cultivation, each yielding 20 bushels. By 1940, with prodigi- 
ous effort and skill, she had pushed up the yield per acre to 40 
bushels, and by taking in every inch of marginal land had increased 
the area under rice to 8 million acres. But in the meantime average 
consumption had risen to 5| bushels a year - not a great deal - and 
the population to 73 million, so Japan was short of 65 million 
bushels of rice a year. Agricultural productivity had already levelled 
off in the early 1920s and there then was no way of raising it further. 
So between the pre-war period 1910-14, and the end of the 1920s, 
rice imports tripled. 32 These had to be paid for by Japan's predomi- 
nantly textile exports, already meeting cut-throat competition and 

Emigration was not really an option for the Japanese. They had 
been restricted by treaty from entering the United States as long ago 
as 1894, the first national group to be so controlled. By 1920 there 
were 100,000 Japanese in the USA (mainly in California) and a 


further 100,000 in Hawaii: four years later American terror at the 
'yellow peril' led to legislation precluding Japanese from receiving 
American citizenship, which under the new immigration law automati- 
cally excluded them even from entering the country. Australian 
immigration law was equally restrictive and pointedly aimed at Japan. 
The attitude of the American and Australian governments (which of 
course reflected overwhelming public feeling) caused particular 
bitterness among the Japanese trading community, who had European 
status in Asia. By the mid- 1920s even some of the 'respectable' 
politicians were beginning to feel there was no peaceful way out of the 
dilemma. In his book Addresses to Young Men, Hashimoto Kingoro 

. . . there are only three ways left to Japan to escape from the pressure of surplus 
population . . . emigration, advance into world markets, and expansion of 
territory. The first door, emigration, has been barred to us by the anti-Japanese 
immigration policies of other countries. The second door ... is being pushed 
shut by tariff barriers and the abrogation of commercial treaties. What should 
Japan do when two of the three doors have been closed against her? 33 

The same point was made far more forcefully in the propaganda 
disseminated by the kais and the army and navy slush-funds. It became 
the theme of Sadao Araki, who by 1926 was the leader of the young 
officer groups and evangelist of Kodo, 'the imperial way', the new 
militant form of expansionist Shinto. Why, he asked, must Japan, with 
well over 60 million mouths to feed, be content with 142,270 square 
miles (much of it barren)? Australia and Canada, with 6.5 million 
people each, had 3 million and 3.5 million square miles respectively; 
America had 3 million square miles, France a colonial empire of 3.8 
million, Britain (even without the Dominions and India) had 2.2 
million, Belgium 900,000 square miles, Portugal 800,000. America, he 
pointed out, in addition to her huge home territories, had 700,000 
square miles of colonies. Wherein lay the natural justice of these huge 
discrepancies? It was not as though the Japanese were greedy. They 
lived off fish and rice, and not much of either. They were ingeniously 
economic in their use of all materials. By the mid-1 920s they were close 
to the limits of their resources and a decade later they were right up 
against them. Behind the romantic atavism of the military gangs, their 
posturings and murderous rodomontades, lay a huge and perfectly 
genuine sense of national grievance shared by virtually every Japanese, 
many millions of whom — unlike the Germans — were actually hungry. 

Yet the irony is that Japan, at any rate in the first instance, did not seek 
to redress the balance of right by falling on the rich Western powers, 
whose race policies added insult to inequity, but by imposing yet 
another layer of oppression on what Lord Curzon called 'the great 


helpless, hopeless and inert mass of China'. Of course here again the 
European powers had set the example. They proffered all kinds of 
reasons for the imposition of dictated treaties on China and their 
occupation of her river-ports, but their only real justification was 
superior force. Sometimes they made the point explicitly. In 1900 the 
Kaiser's message instructing German troops to relieve the Peking 
legations had read: 'Give no quarter. Take no prisoners. Fight in 
such a manner that for 1,000 years no Chinaman shall dare look 
askance upon a German.' 35 The other powers behaved similarly, 
usually without the rhetoric. If the rule of force was the law of 
nations in China, why should Japan alone be refused the right to 
follow it? Japan could not accept that the Great War had ended the 
era of colonialism. For her, it was just beginning. China was Japan's 
manifest destiny. Her leading banker Hirozo Mori wrote: 'Expan- 
sion towards the continent is the destiny of the Japanese people, 
decreed by Heaven, which neither the world nor we the Japanese 
ourselves can check or alter.' 36 

But there was another reason for attacking China, which went to 
the roots of the Japanese dynamic impulse. 'They are peculiarly 
sensitive', wrote Kurt Singer, 'to the smell of decay, however well 
screened; and they will strike at any enemy whose core appears to 
betray a lack of firmness .... Their readiness, in the face of apparent 
odds, to attack wherever they can smell decomposition makes them 
appear as true successors of the Huns, Avars, Mongols and other 
"scourges of God".' 37 This shark-like instinct to savage the stricken 
had been proved sound in their assault upon Tsarist Russia. It was to 
be the source of their extraordinary gamble for Asian and Pacific 
paramountcy in 1941. Now, in the 1920s, it was to lead them 
irresistibly to China, where the stench of social and national gan- 
grene was unmistakable. 

China's plight was the result of the optimistic belief, common to 
intellectuals of the Left, that revolutions solve more problems than 
they raise. In the nineteenth century the great powers had sought to 
enter and modernize China; or, as the Chinese thought, plunder it. 
They had imposed 'unequal treaties' which the Manchu dynasty had 
little alternative but to accept. The imperial system of government, 
which had lasted for three millennia, could be seen in two ways. It 
represented the principle of unity, not easily replaced in a vast 
country with little natural focus of unity, for its people spoke many 
different languages (though, thanks to the imperial civil service, 
educated men shared a common script of ideograms). It could also be 
seen as the principle of weakness which made foreign penetration 
possible. Incapable of reforming or modernizing itself, it had allowed 
to happen what the Japanese ruling class had successfully prevented. 


If China, too, could not have a revolution from above, then let it 
have a revolution from below. 

That was the view of the radical intellectuals, whose leader was the 
Western-educated Sun Yat-sen. Like Lenin he had spent much of his 
life in exile. In 1896 he had been kidnapped by the staff of the 
Imperial Chinese Legation in London. They planned to ship him 
back as a lunatic in a specially chartered steamer, and once in Peking 
he would have been tortured to death, the punishment reserved for 
plotting against the Dragon Throne. But from his top-floor cell in the 
Legation at the corner of Portland Place and Weymouth Street, Sun 
had thrown out messages wrapped around half-crowns. One had 
been picked up by a black porter, who took it to the police; and 
soon after the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, got Sun freed. 38 He 
eventually returned to China. At exactly the same time as Lenin was 
promoting his 'vanguard elite' theory to justify middle-class intellec- 
tuals pushing a largely non-existent proletariat into revolution and 
Mussolini's mentors were experimenting with 'revolutionary syndi- 
calism', Sun founded a secret society, the Hsing Chung Hui. It was 
based partly on European, partly on Japanese models, and its object, 
like Lenin's, was to overthrow the imperial autocracy by force. It 
exploited famines and rice-harvest failures, assassinated provincial 
officials, occasionally captured cities, or engaged in more general 
revolts in 1904 and 1906. Its opportunity came when the death of 
the Dowager-Empress Tzu Hsi in 1908 left the throne to a 
two-year-old, Pu Yi. A national assembly was convoked. There was a 
possibility of creating a constitutional monarchy which would have 
introduced the democratic principle while conserving the unifying 
principle of monarchy, shorn of its abuses. But Dr Sun would have 
none of it. On 29 December 1911 he set up a Republic in Nanking, 
with himself as president, and six weeks later the Manchus, the last 
of China's dynasties, abdicated. 

Thus the principle of legitimacy was destroyed, leaving a vacuum, 
which could only be filled by force. The point was noted by a young 
peasant, Mao Tse-tung, who had been seventeen in 1910 when he 
heard in his Hunan village the news of the Empress's death, two 
years after it occurred. When the revolution came he cut off his 
pigtail and joined the army, discovering in the process that, in China, 
it was necessary to have an army to achieve anything; an aperqu he 
never forgot. 39 The owlish Dr Sun came to the same conclusion 
rather later, and when he did so handed over the presidency to the 
last commander of the imperial troops, General Yuan Shih-kai. 
General Yuan would almost certainly have made himself emperor, 
and founded a new dynasty — as had many Chinese strong-men in the 
past. But in 1916 he died, the cause of monarchy was lost, and China 


embarked on what Charles de Gaulle was later to call les delices de 

The object of overthrowing the monarchy was to restore China's 
possessions according to the 1840 frontiers, unify the country and 
curb the foreigner. It did the opposite in each case. In Outer 
Mongolia the Hutuktu of Urga declared himself independent and 
made a secret treaty with Russia (1912), a realignment never since 
reversed. By 1916 five other provinces had opted for home rule. 
Japan moved into Manchuria and the North, and many coastal 
areas. The other great powers settled their 'spheres of influence' at 
meetings from which China was excluded. The only dependable 
source of revenue possessed by the Chinese Republican government 
(when it had one) was what remained of the old Imperial Maritime 
Customs, created by the Irishman Sir Robert Hart and manned by 
Europeans, mainly from the United Kingdom, which controlled the 
coasts and navigable rivers, maintained buoys, lighthouses and charts 
and collected duties. The rest of the government's taxation system 
dissolved into a morass of corruption. As there was no money, there 
could be no central army. 

Moreover, the destruction of the monarchy struck a fatal blow at 
the old Chinese landed gentry. They lost their privileges in law, and 
immediately sought to erect a system of bastard feudalism (as in 
Japan) to restore them in fact. Hitherto, their factions and clans had 
operated within the rules of the court. Without the court there was 
nothing. Traditional cosmology had gone with the throne. So had 
religion, for Confucianism revolved round monarchy. Taoism, a 
private cult, was no substitute as a creed of public morals. Some took 
refuge in Buddhism, others in Christianity. But most of the gentry 
aligned themselves with whatever local source of military authority 
they could find, becoming, with their dependents, its clients. Con- 
fronted with the state of dissolution so graphically described by 
Hobbes, they chose Leviathan, in the shape of the war-lord. Alas, 
there was not one monster but many: by 1920 four major war-lords 
held sway, and scores of minor ones. China entered a hateful period 
reminiscent of the Thirty Years' War in Europe. 40 

Dr Sun, the sorcerer's apprentice, had himself re-elected President, 
then in 1921 made Generalissimo. But he had no army, and no 
money to pay one. He wrote books, San-min cbu-i [The Three 
Principles of the People) and Chien-kuo fang-lueh {Plans for the 
Building of the Realm). It was all so easy on paper. First would come 
the phase of struggle against the old system; then the phase of 
educative rule; then the phase of true democratic government. He 
changed his revolutionary organization into the Kuomintang (kmt), 
or People's Party. It was based on Three Principles: National 


Freedom, Democratic Government, Socialist Economy. A master of 
the classroom, Sun used to draw on a blackboard a big circle with 
smaller circles within, Conservatism, Liberalism, Socialism and 
Communism - the kmt took the best out of each and combined 
them. The reality was rather different. Dr Sun admitted: 'Well- 
organized nations count votes out of ballot boxes. Badly organized 
nations count bodies, dead ones, on the battlefields.' To his head 
bodyguard, a celebrated Canadian Jew called Two-Gun' Cohen, he 
confessed his real political aim was modest: 'I want a China where 
there is no need to shut one's outer gate at night.' 41 

In the circumstances, the aim was too ambitious. Outer gates 
remained essential; so did bodyguards. Holed up in Canton, Dr Sun 
required six hundred men to guard him. Sometimes he could not pay 
them. Then they would mutiny and raid the Treasury, to see what 
they could find. When Sun and other military and civil leaders moved 
about, they did so in big American Packards, with gun-toting heavies 
mounted on the running-boards. Sometimes Sun was forced to go 
into hiding, in weird disguises. Once he fled to Hong Kong, in a 
British gunboat. Indeed, he would dearly have liked British help as a 
Protecting Power - so much for China's independence - but Lord 
Curzon vetoed it. He then turned to America, and urged Jacob Gould 
Schurman, the US Minister in Canton, for a five-year American 
intervention, with power to occupy all railway junctions and provin- 
cial capitals, authority over the army, police, sanitation, flood- 
control, and the right to appoint key administrative experts. But this 
too was turned down, in 1923 and again in 1925. 42 

Baffled, Sun turned to the Soviet government in 1923. A Chinese 
Communist Party had been formed in 1920—1, but joint membership 
with the kmt was permitted by both. Indeed the Soviet regime 
insisted on this alliance, forcing the CCP, at its third Congress, to 
declare: 'The kmt must be the central force in the national revolu- 
tion and assume its leadership.' 43 So Moscow (that is, Stalin) 
welcomed Sun's request, and in October 1923 sent him one Michael 
Borodin, also known as Berg and Grisenberg, to reorganize the kmt 
on Leninist lines of democratic centralism, and a military expert, 
'Galen', also known as 'General 'Blucher', to create an army. They 
brought with them many 'advisers', the first instance of a new Soviet 
form of political imperialism. Galen sold Sun Soviet rifles, at US $65 
each, then gave the cash to Borodin who put it into the ccp's 
organization. Galen also set up a military academy at Whampoa, and 
put in charge of it was Sun's ambitious brother-in-law, a former 
invoice-clerk called Chiang Kai-shek (they had married sisters of the 
left-wing banker, T.V. Soong). 

The arrangement worked, after a fashion. The academy turned out 


five hundred trained officers, whom Chiang made the elite of the 
kmt's first proper army. Then he decided to turn war-lord on his 
own account. The trouble with Chinese armies was discipline. 
Generals, indeed whole armies, often just ran away. In 1925 Chiang, 
promoted chief-of-staff to Generalissimo Sun, issued his first orders: 
'If a company of my troops goes into action and then retreats 
without orders, the company commander will be shot. This rule will 
also apply to battalions, regiments, divisions and army corps. In the 
event of a general retreat, if the commander of the army corps 
personally stands his ground and is killed, all the divisional comman- 
ders will be shot.' And so on down the line. This was followed up by 
drumhead courts-martial and mass-shootings. 44 

In 1924 Sun had held the first kmt Congress, and it emerged as a 
mass party organized on cp lines, with over 600,000 members. But 
he died in March 1925, lamenting the way that cp militants were 
taking over, and deploring the failure of Britain or America to help 
him save China from Communism. In the circumstances, the kmt's 
own war-lord, Chiang, was bound to take over, and did so. There 
now followed one of those decisive historical turning-points which, 
though clear enough in retrospect, were complicated and confused at 
the time. How should the revolution be carried through, now that 
Dr Sun was dead? The kmt controlled only the Canton area. The 
Communists were divided. Some believed revolution should be 
carried through on the slender basis of the small Chinese proletariat, 
concentrated in and around Shanghai. Others, led by Li Ta-chao, 
librarian of Peking University (whose assistant Mao Tse-tung be- 
came), thought revolution should be based on the peasants, who 
formed the overwhelming mass of the Chinese population. Orthodox 
Communist doctrine scouted this notion. As Ch'en Tu-hsiu, co- 
founder of the Chinese party, put it, 'over half the peasants are 
petit-bourgeois landed proprietors who adhere firmly to private 
property consciousness. How can they accept Communism?' 45 Stalin 
agreed with this. The Russian peasants had defeated Lenin; he 
himself had not yet settled their hash. He took the view that, in the 
circumstances, the Chinese cp had no alternative but to back the 
kmt and work through Chinese nationalism. 

In the vast chaos of China, everyone was an opportunist, Chiang 
above all. At the Whampoa Academy, whose object was to produce 
dedicated officers, he worked closely with a young Communist, 
Chou en-Lai, head of its political department. There was virtually no 
difference between kmt and cp political indoctrination. Indeed, the 
kmt at this stage could easily have become the form of national 
Communism which Mao Tse-tung was eventually to evolve. It was 
Chiang, not the Communists, who first grasped that hatred of 


foreigners and imperialism could be combined with hatred of the 
oppressive war-lords to mobilize the strength of the peasant masses. 
Mao Tse-tung, who was a member of the kmt Shanghai bureau, 
found this idea attractive, and he was made head of the Peasant 
Movement Training Institute, with an overwhelming stress on mili- 
tary discipline (128 hours out of the total course of 380 hours). His 
views and Chiang's were very close at this time. In some ways he was 
much more at home in the kmt, with its stress on nationalism, than 
in the ccp, with its city-oriented dogmatism. He collaborated with 
the kmt longer than any other prominent Communist, which meant 
that after he came to power in the late 1940s he had to 'lose' a year 
out of his life (1925-6) in his official biographies. 46 An article Mao 
wrote in February 1926, which forms the first item in the official 
Maoist Canon, is remarkably similar to a declaration by Chiang in 
Changsha the same year: 'Only after the overthrow of imperialism', 
said Chiang, 'can China obtain freedom .... If we want our revolu- 
tion to succeed, we must unite with Russia to overthrow imperial- 
ism .... The Chinese revolution is part of the world revolution.' 47 

The possibility of a merger of the kmt and the ccp into a national 
communist party under the leadership of Chiang and Mao was 
frustrated by the facts of life in China. In 1925—6 Chiang controlled 
only part of south China. The centre and north were in the hands of 
the war-lords. Marshal Sun Chuan-fang controlled Shanghai and ran 
five provinces from Nanking. North of the Yangtze, Marshal Wu 
Pei-fu ran Hankow. General Yen Hsi-shan controlled Shansi Pro- 
vince. Marshal Chang Tso-lin occupied Mukden and dominated the 
three Manchurian provinces. Marshal Chang Tsung-chang was the 
war-lord in Shantung, and Chu Yu-pu in the Peking-Tientsin area. 

In the early spring of 1926 this pattern was broken when Marshal 
Feng Yu-hsiang, the ablest of the kmt commanders, marched his 
300,000-strong force (known as the Kuominchun or People's Army) 
some 7,000 miles, circling southern Mongolia, then east through 
Shensu and Hunan, to attack Peking from the south. This stupen- 
dous physical and military feat (which became the model for Mao's 
own 'long march' in the next decade) made possible Chiang's 
conquest of the North in 1926— 7. 48 As a result, four of the principal 
war-lords recognized Chiang's supremacy, and the possibility ap- 
peared of uniting China under a republic by peaceful means. The 
Northern campaign had been fearfully costly in life, particularly of 
the peasants. Was it not preferable to seek a settlement by ideological 
compromise now, rather than trust to the slow carnage of revolu- 
tionary attrition? If so, then instead of expelling the 'foreign capital- 
ists', Chiang must seek their help; and being the brother-in-law of a 
leading banker was an advantage. But such a course must mean a 


break with the Communist elements within the kmt and a public 
demonstration that a workers' state was not just round the corner. 
Hence in April 1927, when he took Shanghai, Chiang turned on the 
organized factory workers, who had risen in his support, and 
ordered his troops to gun them down. The Shanghai business 
community applauded, and the banks raised money to pay the kmt 

Stalin now decided to reverse his policy. He had recently ousted 
Trotsky and, following his usual custom, adopted the policies of his 
vanquished opponents. The Chinese Communist Party was ordered 
to break with the kmt and take power by force. It was the only time 
Stalin ever followed Trotsky's revolutionary line, and it was a 
disaster. 49 The Communist cadres rose in Canton, but the citizens 
would not follow them; in the fighting that followed many townsfolk 
were massacred and a tenth of the city burnt down. The kmt 
attacked in force on 14 December 1927, the Communists broke, and 
they were hunted down through the streets by the Cantonese 
themselves. Most of the staff of the Soviet consulate were murdered. 
Borodin returned to Moscow in disgust and told Stalin: 'Next time 
the Chinese shout "Hail to the World Revolution!" send in the 
ogpu.' Stalin said nothing; in due course he had Borodin put to 
death. 50 

So Chiang and Mao came to the parting of the ways. Chiang 
became the supreme war-lord; the kmt was reorganized as a 
war-lord's party, its members including (in 1929) 172,796 officers 
and men in the various armies, 201,321 civilians and 47,906 
'overseas Chinese', who supplied much of the money and some of its 
worst gangsters. As it won ground among the business community 
and the foreign interests, it lost ground among the peasants. Dr Sun's 
widow left the kmt, went into exile in Europe and charged that her 
husband's successors had 'organized the kmt as a tool for the rich to 
get still richer and suck the blood of the starving millions of 
China .... Militarists and officials whom a few years ago I knew to 
be poor are suddenly parading about in fine limousines and buying 
up mansions in the Foreign Concessions for their newly acquired 
concubines.' Chiang was a case in point. In July 1929 the New York 
Times correspondent noted that he paid a Peking hotel bill of US 
$17,000, for his wife, bodyguard and secretaries, for a fifteen-day 
stay, forking out a further $1,500 in tips and $1,000 bribes to the 
local police. 51 

The moral Mao drew from Chiang's change of policy was not an 
ideological but a practical one. To make any political impression in 
China, a man had to have an army. He would become a war-lord on 
his own account. He was extremely well-suited for this pursuit. Mao 


was thirty-four in 1927: tall, powerfully built, the son of a cruel and 
masterful peasant who had fought and worked his way to affluence 
as a well-to-do farmer and grain merchant - a genuine kulak^ in 
short. A contemporary at Tungshan Higher Primary School des- 
cribed Mao as 'arrogant, brutal and stubborn'. 52 He was not a 
millennarian, religious-type revolutionary like Lenin, but a fierce and 
passionate romantic, with a taste for crude and violent drama; an 
artist of sorts, cast from the same mould as Hitler, and equally 
impatient. Like Hitler, he was first and foremost a nationalist, who 
trusted in the national culture. From the philosopher Yen Fu he 
derived the idea that 'culturalism', the pursuit of 'the Chinese Way', 
was the means to mobilize her people into an irresistible force. 53 He 
read and used Marxist-Leninism, but his fundamental belief was 
closer to the axiom of his ethics teacher at Peking, Yang Chang-chi, 
whose daughter became his first wife: 'Each country has its own 
national spirit just as each person has its own personality .... A 
country is an organic whole, just as the human body is an organic 
whole. It is not like a machine which can be taken apart and put 
together again. If you take it apart it dies.' 54 

In Mao's thinking, a form of radical patriotism was the main- 
spring. He never had to make the switch from internationalism to 
nationalism which Mussolini carried out in 1914: he was a national- 
ist ab initio^ like Ataturk. And his cultural nationalism sprang not 
from a sense of oppression so much as from an outraged consciousness 
of superiority affronted. How could China, the father of culture, be 
treated by European upstarts as a wayward infant — a metaphor 
often used by the Western press in the 1920s. Thus the Far Eastern 
Review ', commenting in 1923 on attempts to tax the British- 
American Tobacco monopoly: 'The solution of the problem, of 
course, is concerted action of the powers in making it clear to these 
young politicians that trickery never got anything for a nation, that 
sooner or later the Powers grow weary of tricks and childish pranks 
and will set the house in order and spank the child.' 55 In 1924 Mao 
took a Chinese friend, newly arrived from Europe, to see the 
notorious sign in the Shanghai park, 'Chinese and Dogs Not 
Allowed'. He interrupted a soccer game (against a Yale team) with a 
characteristic slogan, 'Beat the slaves of the foreigners!' and used an 
equally characteristic metaphor, 'If one of our foreign masters farts, 
it's a lovely perfume!' 'Do the Chinese people know only how to hate 
the Japanese,' he asked, 'and don't they know how to hate 
England?' 56 

Mao was not cast down by the difficulty of turning China, that 
helpless, prostrate beast of burden, into a formidable dragon again. 
This big, confident man, with his flat-topped ears and broad, pale 


face — 'a typical big Chinese', according to a Burmese; 'like a 
sea-elephant', as a Thai put it - was an incurable optimist, who 
scrutinized the mystery of China for favourable signs. Dr Sun had 
thought China in a worse position than an ordinary colony: ' We are 
being crushed by the economic strength of the powers to a greater 
degree than if we were a full colony. China is not the colony of one 
nation but of all, and we are not the slaves of one country but of all. I 
think we should be called a hypo-colony.' That was Stalin's view 
also. 57 But Mao thought the multiplicity of China's exploiters an 
advantage, because one power could be set against another; he did 
not believe in the Leninist theory of colonialism. He argued 'disunity 
among the imperialist powers made for disunity among the ruling 
groups in China', hence there could be no 'unified state power'. 58 

But all this analysis was mere words without an army. Mao 
accepted Chiang's original view that the key to revolutionary success 
was to rouse the peasants. But peasants were as helpless as China 
herself until they were armed and trained, and forged into a wxapon, 
as Genghis Khan had done. Was not Genghis a legitimate hero of a 
resurrected Chinese culture? It was part of Mao's romantic national- 
ism, so similar to Hitler's, that he scoured the past for exemplars, 
especially those who shared his own stress on force and physical 
strength. 59 His very first article declared: 'Our nation is wanting in 
strength. The military spirit has not been encouraged .... If our 
bodies are not strong we shall be afraid as soon as we see enemy 
soldiers, and then how can we attain our goals and make ourselves 
respected?' The principle aim of physical education', he added, 'is 
military heroism.' The martial virtues were absolutely fundamental 
to his national socialism. 60 

In September 1927, following the* break with the kmt, Mao was 
ordered by the Communist leadership to organize an armed rising 
among the Hunan peasants. This was his opportunity to become a 
war-lord, and thereafter he quickly turned himself into an indepen- 
dent force in Chinese politics. The revolt itself failed but he preserved 
the nucleus of a force and led it into the mountains of Chinghanshan, 
on the borders of Hunan and Kiangsi. It was small, but enough; 
thereafter he was never without his own troops. His appeal was 
crude but effective, systematizing the spontaneous land-grabbing 
which (though he was probably unaware of the fact) had destroyed 
Kerensky and made Lenin's putsch possible. His Regulations for the 
Repression of Local Bullies and Bad Gentry and his Draft Resolution 
on the Land Question condemned the traditional enemies of poor 
peasants - 'local bullies and bad gentry, corrupt officials, militarists 
and all counter-revolutionary elements in the villages'. He classified 
as 'uniformly counter-revolutionary' all the groups likely to oppose 


his peasant-army: 'All Right-Peasants, Small, Middle and Big Land- 
lords', categorized as 'those possessing over 30 mou' (4£ acres). In 
fact he was setting himself up against all the stable elements in rural 
society, forming a war-band which was the social reverse of those 
commanded by gentry war-lords and their iocal bullies'. 

Mao showed himself better at appealing to peasant patriotism 
than Chiang, as Japanese war-archives were later to show. 61 But to 
begin with he could not recruit more than 1,000 poor peasants. He 
supplemented his force with 600 bandits, recruiting deliberately 
from the very scum of a society in the midst of civil war, what he 
called his 'five declasse elements': deserters, bandits, robbers, beg- 
gars and prostitutes. 62 As with other war-lords, his army fluctuated, 
from less than 3,000 to over 20,000. And he was as ruthless as any 
war-lord in killing enemies. In December 1930 he had between 2,000 
and 3,000 officers and men in his army shot for belonging to the 'ab' 
(Anti-Bolshevik League), a kmt undercover organization within the 
Communist forces. Five months earlier his wife and younger sister 
had been executed by the kmt and there were other deaths to avenge 
- Chiang had killed tens of thousands of Communists in 1927-8. But 
Mao never hesitated to take the initiative in using force. He had by 
the end of 1930 already created his own secret police (as his purge 
revealed) and when he felt it necessary he acted with complete ruth- 
lessness and atrocious cruelty. The comparison between his ragged 
and savage band and Genghis's 'horde' was not inapt, and to most of 
those whose fields he crossed he must have seemed like any other 
war-lord. 63 

Thus in the last years of the 1920s China was given over to the 
rival armies, motivated by a variety of ideologies or by simple greed - 
to their victims, what did it matter? After Chiang's Northern 
campaign and the meeting of war-lords in Peking in 1928, one of the 
kmt commanders, Marshal Li Tsung-jen, declared: 'Something new 
had come to changeless China . . . the birth of patriotism and public 
spirit.' Within months these words had been shown to be total 
illusion, as the war-lords fell out with each other and the Nanking 
government. All parties found it convenient to fly the government 
and the kmt flag; none paid much regard to the wishes of either. 
Government revenue fell; that of the war-lords rose. As the destruc- 
tion of towns and villages increased, more of the dispossessed 
became bandits or served war-lords, great and small, for their food. 
In addition to the half-dozen major war-lords, many lesser generals 
controlled a single province or a dozen counties, with armies ranging 
from 20,000 to 100,000; Mao's was among the smallest of these. At 
the National Economic Conference on 30 June 1928, Chiang's 
brother-in-law, T.V.Soong, now Minister of Finance, said that 


whereas in 1911 under the monarchy China had an army of 
400,000, more or less under single control, in 1928 it had eighty-four 
armies, eighteen independent divisions and twenty-one independent 
brigades, totalling over 2 million. The nation's total revenue, $450 
million, was worth only $300 million after debt-payments. The army 
cost each year $360 million, and if the troops were regularly paid, 
$642 million - hence banditry was inevitable. Yet a disarmament 
conference held the following January, designed to reduce the troops 
to 715,000, was a complete failure. Soong told it that, in the last 
year, twice as much money had been spent on the army as on all 
other government expenditure put together. 64 

In practice, the anguished people of China could rarely tell the 
difference between bandits and government troops. The number of 
those killed or who died of exposure or starvation was incalculable. 
Hupeh province showed a net population loss of 4 million in the 
years 1925-30, though there had been no natural famine and little 
emigration. The worst-hit province in 1929-30 was Honan, with 
400,000 bandits (mostly unpaid soldiers) out of a total population of 
25 million. In five months during the winter of 1929-30, the 
once-wealthy city of Iyang in West Honan changed hands among 
various bandit armies seventy-two times. An official government 
report on the province said that in Miench'ih district alone 1,000 
towns and villages had been looted and 10,000 held to ransom: 
'When they capture a person for ransom they first pierce his legs with 
iron wire and bind them together as fish are hung on a string. When 
they return to their bandit dens the captives are interrogated and cut 
with sickles to make them disclose hidden property. Any who 
hesitate are immediately cut in two at the waist, as a warning to the 
others.' The report said that families were selling children and men 
their wives. Or men 'rented out' their wives for two or three years, 
any children born being the property of the men who paid the rent. 
'In many cases only eight or ten houses are left standing in towns 
which a year ago had 400 or 450.' 65 

In desperation, the peasants built stone turrets with loopholes and 
crenellations, as look-outs and refuges for humans and cattle — rather 
like the peel towers of the fifteenth-century border in Britain. But 
even strongly walled towns were besieged and stormed. Choctow, 
only thirty miles from Peking, was besieged for eighty days and its 
100,000 inhabitants starved; mothers strangled their new-born 
babies and girls were sold for as little as five Chinese dollars, and 
carried off into prostitution all over Asia. Liyang, in the heart of the 
Nanking government-controlled area, was stormed by a bandit force 
of 3,000, who looted $3 million and destroyed a further $10 million 
by fire. Six major towns in the Shanghai area were stormed and 


looted. At Nigkang the chief magistrate was bound hand and foot 
and murdered by pouring boiling water over him. Strange practices 
from the past were resumed: bamboo 'cages of disgrace' were hoisted 
twenty feet into the air and hung from city walls, offenders having 
to stand on tiptoe with their heads sticking through a hole in the 
top. At Fushun in Shantung, a defeated war-lord retired into the city 
with his 4,500 troops, taking 10,000 hostages with him. During a 
thirteen-day siege by kmt units, over 400 women and children were 
tied to posts on the city walls, the defenders firing from behind them. 

Mao and other Communist war-lords, who held down about 30 
million people in five provinces during 1929-30, did not rape or loot 
on the whole, and they suppressed gambling, prostitution and opium 
poppy-growing. On the other hand they ill-treated and murdered 
members of the middle classes, destroyed official documents, land- 
deeds and titles, and burned churches, temples and other places of 
worship, slaughtering priests and missionaries. A town might fall 
into the successive hands of a ccp band, a bandit-chief, an indepen- 
dent war-lord and a government force in turn, each exacting its due. 
A petition from Szechuan Province pleaded that the government's 
general was merely 'the leader of the wolves and tigers' and that he 
had 'desolated' the 'whole district' so that 'East and West for some 
tens of //, the bark of a dog or the crow of a cock is no longer heard. 
The people sigh that the sun and the moon might perish so that they 
could perish with them.' From Chengtu, capital of the province, the 
merchants lamented, 'We have nothing left but the grease between 
our bones.' 66 

In two decades, then, the pursuit of radical reform by force had led 
to the deaths of millions of innocents and reduced large parts of 
China to the misery and lawlessness that Germany had known in the 
Wars of Religion or France in the Hundred Years' War. Dr Sun's 
well-intentioned effort to create a modern Utopia had turned into a 
medieval nightmare. The trouble was, everyone believed in radical 
reform. Chiang was for radical reform. Mao was for radical reform. 
Many of the independent war-lords were for radical reform. Marshal 
Feng was known as 'the Christian General'. General Yen Hsi-shan 
was 'the model governor'. All these honourable gentlemen protested 
that they were working, and killing, for the good of China and her 
people. The tragedy of inter-war China illustrates the principle that 
when legitimacy yields to force, and moral absolutes to relativism, a 
great darkness descends and angels become indistinguishable from 

Nor were the Chinese alone in urging radical reform. As already 
noted, China's gangrene attracted the predatory instincts of the 
Japanese. And they, too, favoured radical reform. As foreign journal- 


ists conceded, more progress had been achieved in Korea under thirty 
years of Japanese rule than in 3,000 years of Chinese. 67 Port Arthur, 
the Shantung ports and other areas occupied by Japan were havens 
of order and prosperity. The young officers of this force, known as 
the Kwantung army, watched with distaste and horror China's 
interminable ordeal. In early 1928 two of them, Lt Colonel Kanji 
Ishihara and Colonel Seishiro Itagaki, decided to force their reluctant 
government into intervention. They reasoned that, while Japanese 
capitalists and Chinese war-lords might benefit from the present 
anarchy, it offered nothing to the Chinese people, who needed order, 
and the Japanese people, who needed space. 'From the standpoint of 
the proletariat,' Itagaki wrote, 'which finds it necessary to demand 
equalization of national wealth, no fundamental solution can be 
found within the boundaries of naturally poor Japan that will ensure 
a livelihood for the people at large.' The reasoning was fundamen- 
tally similar to the Soviet exploitation of its Asian empire on behalf 
of the proletariat of Great Russia. Manchuria would be freed of its 
feudal war-lords and bourgeois capitalists and turned into a prole- 
tarian colony of Japan. But the instrument of change would not be a 
revolutionary putsch but the Kwantung army. 68 On 4 June 1928 the 
two colonels took the first step towards a Japanese occupation by 
murdering Marshal Chang Tso-lin, the chief war-lord in Manchuria, 
dynamiting his private train and blowing him to eternity while he 
slept. It was the opening act in what was to become a great 
international war in the East. Curiously enough, in the United States, 
which had appointed itself the protector of China and the admonitor 
of Japan, the episode aroused little interest. The Philadelphia Record 
commented: The American people don't give a hoot in a rainbarrel 
who controls North China.' 69 America was busy manufacturing its 
own melodrama. 


The Last Arcadia 

America's proclaimed indifference to events in North China was a 
bluff, an elaborate self-deceit. A nation which numbered 106 'ethnic 
groups', which was already a substantial microcosm of world 
society, could not be genuinely blind to major events anywhere. 1 
America's anti-Japanese policy sprang in great part from its anxiety 
and ambivalence about its own Japanese minority, which was only 
one aspect of a vast debate the nation was conducting about the 
nature and purpose of American society. Who was an American? 
What was America for? Many, perhaps most, Americans thought of 
their country, almost wistfully, as the last Arcadia, an innocent and 
quasi-Utopian refuge from the cumulative follies and wickedness of 
the corrupt world beyond her ocean-girded shores. But how to 
preserve Arcadia? That, in itself, demanded a global foreign policy. 
And how to create the true Arcadian? That demanded a race policy. 
And the two were inextricably mingled. 

The notion of a fusion of races in America was as old as Hector 
Crevecoeur and Thomas Jefferson. It was dramatized with sensa- 
tional effect in Israel Zangwill's play The Melting-pot, which was the 
New York hit of 1908. The new motion-picture industry, which was 
from its inception the epitome of multi-racialism, was obsessed by 
the idea, as many of its early epics testify. But with what propor- 
tions of ingredients should the pot be filled? By the time of the Great 
War, unrestricted immigration already appeared a lost cause. In 
1915 an itinerant Georgian minister, William Simmons, founded the 
Ku Klux Klan as an organization to control minority groups which it 
identified with moral and political nonconformity. Its aims were 
powerfully assisted by the publication, the following year, of Madi- 
son Grant's presentation, in an American context, of European 
'master-race' theory, The Passing of the Great Race, This quasi- 
scientific best-seller argued that America, by unrestricted immigra- 



tion, had already nearly 'succeeded in destroying the privilege of 
birth; that is, the intellectual and moral advantages a man of good 
stock brings into the world with him'. The result of the 'melting-pot', 
he argued, could be seen in Mexico, where 'the absorption of the 
blood of the original Spanish conquerors by the native Indian 
population' had produced a degenerate mixture 'now engaged in 
demonstrating its incapacity for self-government'. The virtues of the 
'higher races' were 'highly unstable' and easily disappeared 'when 
mixed with generalized or primitive characters'. Thus 'the cross 
between a white man and a Negro is a Negro' and 'the cross between 
any of the three European races and a Jew is a Jew'. 2 

This fear of 'degeneration' was used by Hiram Wesley Evans, a 
Dallas dentist and most effective of the Klan leaders, to build it up 
into a movement of Anglo-Saxon supremacist culture which at one 
time had a reputed 4 million members in the East and Midwest. 
Evans, who called himself 'the most average man in America', 
asserted that the Klan spoke 'for the great mass of Americans of the 
old pioneer stock ... of the so-called Nordic race which, with all its 
faults, has given the world almost the whole of modern civilization'. 3 
A racial pecking-order was almost universally accepted in political 
campaigning, though with significant variations to account for local 
voting-blocks. Thus, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, in private an 
unqualified Anglo-Saxon supremacist, always used the prudent 
code-term 'the English-speaking people' when campaigning. Will 
Hays, campaign manager for Warren Harding, comprehensively 
summed up the candidate's lineage as 'the finest pioneer blood, 
Anglo-Saxon, German, Scotch-Irish and Dutch'. 4 

America's entry into the Great War gave an enormous impetus to a 
patriotic xenophobia which became a justification for varieties of 
racism and a drive against nonconformity. Wilson had feared and 
predicted this emotional spasm — far more violent and destructive 
than McCarthyism after the Second World War - but he nevertheless 
signed the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. The 
latter punished expressions of opinion which, irrespective of their 
likely consequences, were 'disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive' of 
the American form of government, flag or uniform; and under it 
Americans were prosecuted for criticizing the Red Cross, the ymca 
and even the budget. 5 Two Supreme Court judges, Justice Louis 
Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes, sought to resist this wave of 
intolerance. In Schenk v. United States (1919), Holmes laid down 
that restraint of free speech was legal only when the words were of a 
nature to create 'a clear and present danger'; and, dissenting from 
Abrams v. United States which upheld a sedition conviction, he 
argued 'the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself 


accepted in the competition of the market', a rephrasing of Milton's 
point in Areopagitica. 6 But theirs were lonely voices at the time. 
Patriotic organizations like the National Security League and the 
National Civil Federation continued their activities into the peace. 
The watchword in 1919 was 'Americanization'. 

From the autumn of 1919, with Wilson stricken, there was 
virtually no government in the USA, either to prevent the brief 
post-war boom from collapsing into the 1920 recession, or to control 
the xenophobic fury which was one of its consequences. The man in 
charge was the Attorney-General, Mitchell Palmer. He had made 
himself thoroughly unpopular during the war as Alien Property 
Controller and in spring 1919 he was nearly killed when an 
anarchist's bomb blew up in front of his house. Thereafter he led a 
nationwide drive against 'foreign-born subversives and agitators'. 
On 4 November 1919 he presented Congress with a report he 
entitled 'How the Department of Justice discovered upwards of 
60,000 of these organized agitators of the Trotzky doctrine in the US 
. . . confidential information upon which the government is now 
sweeping the nation clean of such alien filth.' He described 'Trotzky' 
as 'a disreputable alien . . . this lowest of all types known to New 
York City [who] can sleep in the Tsar's bed while hundreds of 
thousands in Russia are without food or shelter'. The 'sharp tongues 
of the Revolution's head', he wrote, 'were licking the altars of the 
churches, leaping into the belfry of the school bell, crawling into the 
sacred corners of American homes' and 'seeking to replace marriage 
vows with libertine laws'. 7 On New Year's Day 1920, in a series of 
concerted raids, his Justice Department agents rounded up more than 
6,000 aliens, most of whom were expelled. In the 'Red scare' that 
followed, five members of the New York State Assembly were 
disbarred for alleged socialism and a congressman was twice thrown 
out of the House of Representatives; and two Italians, Nicola Sacco 
and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, anarchists who had evaded military service, 
were convicted of murdering a Massachusetts paymaster in a highly 
prejudicial case which dragged on until 1927. 

A more permanent consequence was the 1921 Quota law which 
limited immigration in any year to 3 per cent of the number of each 
nationality in the USA according to the census of 1910. This device, 
whose object was to freeze the racial balance as far as possible, was 
greatly tightened by the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, which limited 
the quota to 2 per cent of any nationality residing in the USA in 
1890. It debarred Japanese altogether (though Canadians and Mexi- 
cans were exempt) and not only cut the earlier quota but deliberately 
favoured Northern and Western Europe at the expense of Eastern 
and Southern Europe. With a further twist of the screw in 1929, 


based on racial analysis of the USA population in the 1920s, the 
legislation of the 1920s brought mass immigration to America to an 
end. Arcadia was full, its drawbridge up, its composition now 
determined and to be perpetuated. 

There were plenty who criticized the new xenophobia. On 23 July 
1920 Walter Lippmann wrote to his old wartime boss, the Secretary 
of War Newton Baker: \ . . it is forever incredible that an adminis- 
tration announcing the most spacious ideals in our history should 
have done more to endanger fundamental American liberties than 
any group of men for a hundred years .... They have instituted a 
reign of terror in which honest thought is impossible, in which 
moderation is discountenanced and in which panic supplants rea- 
son.' 8 H.L Mencken, the Baltimore publicist (himself of German 
origin) who was perhaps the most influential US journalist of the 
1920s, called Palmer, in the Baltimore Evening Sun, 13 September 
1920, 'perhaps the most eminent living exponent of cruelty, dis- 
honesty and injustice'. A fortnight later he accused the Justice 
Department of maintaining 'a system of espionage altogether with- 
out precedent in American history, and not often matched in the 
history of Russia, Austria and Italy. It has, as a matter of daily 
routine, hounded men and women in cynical violation of their 
constitutional rights, invaded the sanctuary of domicile, manufac- 
tured evidence against the innocent, flooded the land with agents 
provocateurs, raised neighbor against neighbor, filled the public 
press with inflammatory lies and fostered all the worst poltrooneries 
of sneaking and malicious wretches.' 9 The sociologist Horace Kellen, 
of the New School for Social Research, argued that 'Americaniza- 
tion' was merely a recrudescence of the anti-Catholic 'Know- 
Nothingism' of the 1850s, a form of Protestant fundamentalism of 
which the 1924 Act, 'the witch-hunting of the Quaker Attorney- 
General Palmer, the Tsaristically-inspired Jew-baiting of the Baptist 
automobile-maker Ford, the malevolent mass-mummery of the 
Ku-Klux Klan, the racial mumblings of Mr Madesan Grant' were 
manifestations, along with such innocent expressions of homely 
patriotism as the novels of Mrs Gertrude Atherton and the Saturday 
Evening Post. 10 

There was an important point here: America, if it was anything, 
was a Protestant-type religious civilization, and the xenophobia of a 
Palmer was merely the extreme and distorted expression of all that 
was most valuable in the American ethic. From this time onwards, 
American 'highbrows' - the term, so much more appropriate than 
the French intellectuel or intelligentsia, had been devised by the critic 
Van Wyck Brooks in 1915 - had to face the dilemma that, in 
attacking the distortion, they were in danger of damaging the reality 


of 'Americanism', which sprang from Jeffersonian democracy; and if 
that were lost, American culture was nothing except an expatriation 
of Europe. While Palmer was hunting aliens, East Coast highbrows 
were reading The Education of Henry Adams, the posthumous 
autobiography of the archetypal Boston mandarin, which the Massa- 
chusetts Historical Society published in October 1918. From then 
until spring 1920 it was the most popular non- fiction book in 
America, perfectly expressing the mood of educated disillusionment. 
It was the American equivalent of Strachey's Eminent Victorians, 
rejecting the notion of a national culture - especially one imposed by 
brutal repression - in favour of what Adams termed 'multiversity' 
but pessimistically stressing that, in the emerging America, the 
best-educated were the most helpless. 

In fact the East Coast highbrows were by no means helpless. Over 
the next sixty years they were to exercise an influence on American 
(and world) policy out of all proportion to their numbers and 
intrinsic worth. But they were ambivalent about America. In the 
spring of 1917, Van Wyck Brooks wrote in Seven Arts, the journal he 
helped to found, 'Towards a National Culture', in which he argued 
that hitherto America had taken the 'best' of other cultures: now it 
must create its own through the elementary experience of living 
which alone produced true culture. America, by experiencing its own 
dramas, through what he termed 'the Culture of Industrialism', 
would 'cease to be a blind, selfish, disorderly people; we shall 
become a luminous people, dwelling in the light and sharing our 
light'. 11 He endorsed his friend Randolph Bourne's view that the 
whole 'melting-pot' theory was unsound since it turned immigrants 
into imitation Anglo-Saxons, and argued that America ought to have 
not narrow European nationalism but 'the more adventurous ideal' 
of cosmopolitanism, to become 'the first international nation'. 12 But 
what did this mean? D.H. Lawrence rightly observed that America 
was not, or not yet, 'a blood-homeland'. Jung, putting it another 
way, said Americans were 'not yet at home in their unconscious'. 
Brooks, deliberately settling into Westport, Connecticut, to find his 
American cosmopolitanism, together with other Twenties intellec- 
tuals whom he neatly defined as 'those who care more for the state of 
their minds than the state of their fortunes', nevertheless felt the 
strong pull of the old culture; he confessed, in his autobiography, to 
'a frequently acute homesickness for the European scene'. Only 'a 
long immersion in American life', he wrote, 'was to cure me 
completely of any lingering fear of expatriation; but this ambivalence 
characterized my outlook in the Twenties.' 13 In May 1919, hearing 
that a friend, Waldo Frank, planned to settle in the Middle West, he 
wrote to him: 'All our will-to-live as writers comes to us, or rather 


stays with us, through our intercourse with Europe. Never believe 
people who talk to you about the west, Waldo; never forget that it is 
we New Yorkers and New Englanders who have the monopoly of 
whatever oxygen there is in the American continent.' 14 

That was an arrogant claim; to echo, though not often so frankly 
avowed, down the decades of the twentieth century. But without the 
Midwest, what was America? A mere coastal fringe, like so many of 
the hispanic littoral-states of South America. The hate-figure of the 
East Coast highbrows in the Twenties was William Jennings Bryan, 
the Illinois Democrat who had denounced the power of money ('You 
shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold'), opposed imperialism, 
resigned as Secretary of State in 1915 in protest against the drift to war 
and, in his old age, fought a desperate rearguard action against 
Darwinian evolution in the 1925 Scopes trial. Fundamentally, Bryan's 
aims were democratic and progressive: he fought for women's 
suffrage and a federal income-tax and reserve-bank, for popular 
election to the Senate, for the publication of campaign contributions, 
for freeing the Philippines, and for the representation of labour in the 
cabinet. Yet his values were popular ones or, to use the new term of 
derogation, 'populist'; he spoke the language of anti-intellectualism. 
His wife's diaries testify to the bitterness the couple felt at the way his 
work was misrepresented or completely ignored in the 'Eastern 
press'. 15 At the Scopes trial he was not seeking to ban the teaching of 
evolution but to prevent state schools from undermining religious 
belief: evolution should, he argued, be taught as theory not fact, 
parents and taxpayers should have a say in what went on in the 
schools, and teachers should abide by the law of the land. He saw 
himself as resisting the aggressive dictatorship of a self-appointed 
scholastic elite who were claiming a monopoly of authentic know- 
ledge. 16 

The philosopher John Dewey, while opposing the Bryan anti- 
evolution crusade, warned the East Coast intelligentsia that the forces 
it embodied 'would not be so dangerous were they not bound up with 
so much that is necessary and good'. He feared the idea of a fissure, 
which he could see opening, between the East Coast leadership of 
educated opinion and what a later generation would call 'middle 
America' or 'the silent majority'. Evolution was a mere instance of 
antagonistic habits of thought. In a remarkable article, 'The American 
Intellectual Frontier', which he published in 1922, he warned readers 
of the New Republic that Bryan could not be dismissed as a mere 
obscurantist because he 'is a typical democratic figure - there is no 
gainsaying that proposition'. Of course he was mediocre but 'demo- 
cracy by nature puts a premium on mediocrity'. Moreover, he spoke 
for some of the best, and most essential, elements in American society: 


... the church-going classes, those who have come under the influence of 
evangelical Christianity. These people form the backbone of philanthropic 
social interest, of social reform through political action, of pacifism, of 
popular education. They embody and express the spirit of kindly goodwill 
towards classes which are at an economic disadvantage and towards other 
nations, especially when the latter show any disposition towards a republi- 
can form of government. The Middle West, the prairie country, has been the 
centre of active social philanthropy and political progressivism because it is 
the chief home of this folk . . . believing in education and better opportuni- 
ties for its own children ... it has been the element responsive to appeals for 
the square deal and more nearly equal opportunities for all .... It followed 
Lincoln in the abolition of slavery and it followed Roosevelt in his 
denunciation of 'bad' corporations and aggregations of wealth .... It has 
been the middle in every sense of the word and of every movement. 17 

In so far as there was an indigenous American culture, this was it. 
Cosmopolitanism on the East Coast was thus in danger of becoming 
a counter-culture and involving America in the kind of internal 
conflict between 'culture' and 'civilization' which was tearing apart 
Weimar Germany and opening the gates to totalitarianism. Indeed 
the conflict already existed, finding its envenomed expression in the 
Prohibition issue. Bryan had been presented with a vast silver 
loving-cup in token of his prodigious efforts to secure ratification of 
the eighteenth 'National Prohibition' Amendment to the constitution, 
which made legal the Volstead Act turning America 'dry'. The Act 
came into effect the same month, January 1920, that Mitchell Palmer 
pounced on the alien anarchists, and the two events were closely 
related. Prohibition, with its repressive overtones, was part of the 
attempt to 'Americanize' America: reformers openly proclaimed that 
it was directed chiefly at the 'notorious drinking habits' of 'immi- 
grant working men'. 18 Like the new quota system, it was an attempt 
to preserve Arcadia, to keep the Arcadians pure. America had been 
founded as a Utopian society, populated by what Lincoln had, 
half-earnestly, half-wryly, called 'an almost-chosen people'; the 
eighteenth Amendment was the last wholehearted effort at millennari- 

But if wholehearted in intention, it was not so in execution. It was 
another testimony to the ambivalence of American society. America 
willed the end in ratifying the eighteenth Amendment; but it failed to 
will the means, for the Volstead Act was an ineffectual compromise - 
if it had provided ruthless means of enforcement it would never have 
become law. The Prohibition Bureau was attached to the Treasury; 
efforts to transfer it to the Justice Department were defeated. 
Successive presidents refused to recommend the appropriations 


needed to secure effective enforcement. 19 Moreover, the Utopianism 
inherent in Prohibition, though strongly rooted in American society, 
came up against the equally strongly rooted and active American 
principle of unrestricted freedom of enterprise. America was one of 
the least totalitarian societies on earth; it possessed virtually none of 
the apparatus to keep market forces in check once an unfulfilled need 

Hence the liquor gangsters and their backers could always com- 
mand more physical and financial resources than the law. Indeed 
they were far better organized on the whole. Prohibition illustrated 
the law of unintended effect. Far from driving alien minorities into 
Anglo-Saxon conformity, it allowed them to consolidate themselves. 
In New York, bootlegging was half Jewish, a quarter Italian and 
one-eighth each Polish and Irish. 20 In Chicago it was half Italian, half 
Irish. The Italians were particularly effective in distributing liquor in 
an orderly and inexpensive manner, drawing on the organizational 
experience not only of the Sicilian, Sardinian and Neapolitan secret 
societies but on the 'vanguard elitism' of revolutionary syndicalism. 
Prohibition offered matchless opportunities to subvert society, parti- 
cularly in Chicago under the corrupt mayoralty of 'Big Bill' Thomp- 
son. John Torrio, who ran large-scale bootlegging in Chicago 
1920-4, retiring to Italy in 1925 with a fortune of $30 million, 
practised the principle of total control: all officials were bribed in 
varying degrees and all elections rigged. 21 He could deliver high- 
quality beer as cheaply as $50 a barrel and his success was based on 
the avoidance of violence by diplomacy - in securing agreements 
among gangsters for the orderly assignment of territory. 22 His 
lieutenant and successor Al Capone was less politically minded and 
therefore less successful; and the Irish operators tended to think in 
the short term and resort to violent solutions. When this happened 
gang-warfare ensued, the public became indignant and the authori- 
ties were driven to intervene. 

As a rule, however, bootleggers operated with public approval, at 
any rate in the cities. Most urban men (not women) agreed with 
Mencken's view that Prohibition was the work of 'ignorant bump- 
kins of the cow states who resented the fact they had to swill raw 
corn liquor while city slickers got good wine and whiskey'. It 'had 
little behind it, philosophically speaking, save the envy of the country 
lout for the city man, who has a much better time of it in this 
world'. 23 City enforcement was impossible, even under reforming 
mayors. General Smedley Butler of the US Marine Corps, put in 
charge of the Philadelphia police under a 'clean' new administration 
in 1924, was forced to give up after less than two years: the job, he 
said, was 'a waste of time'. Politicians of both parties gave little help 


to the authorities. At the 1920 Democratic Convention in San 
Francisco they gleefully drank the first-class whiskey provided free 
by the mayor, and Republicans bitterly resented the fact that, at their 
Cleveland Convention in 1924, prohibition agents 'clamped down 
on the city', according to Mencken, 'with the utmost ferocity'. Over 
huge areas, for most of the time, the law was generally defied. 'Even 
in the most remote country districts', Mencken claimed, 'there is 
absolutely no place in which any man who desires to drink alcohol 
cannot get it.' 24 

A similar pattern of non-enforcement appeared in Norway, which 
prohibited spirits and strong wines by a referendum of five to three in 
October 1919. But Norway had the sense to drop the law by a 
further referendum in 1926. 25 America kept Prohibition twice as 
long and the results were far more serious. The journalist Walter 
Ligget, probably the greatest expert on the subject, testified to the 
House Judiciary Committee in February 1930 that he had 'a truck 
load of detail and explicit facts' that 'there is considerably more hard 
liquor being drunk than there was in the days before prohibition and 
. . . drunk in more evil surroundings'. Washington DC had had 300 
licensed saloons before Prohibition: now it had 700 speakeasies, 
supplied by 4,000 bootleggers. Police records showed that arrests for 
drunkenness had trebled over the decade. Massachusetts had jumped 
from 1,000 licensed saloons to 4,000 speakeasies, plus a further 
4,000 in Boston: 'there are at least 15,000 people who do nothing 
but purvey booze illegally in the city of Boston today.' Kansas had 
been the first state to go dry; had been dry for half a century, yet 
'there is not a town in Kansas where I cannot go as a total stranger 
and get a drink of liquor, and very good liquor at that, within fifteen 
minutes after my arrival'. All this was made possible by universal 
corruption at all levels. Thus, in Detroit there were 20,000 speak- 
easies. He continued: 

There came to my attention in the city of Detroit - and this took place last 
November — a wild party given at a roadhouse, and a very wild party, where 
the liquor was donated by one of the principal gamblers of Detroit - Denny 
Murphy if you want his name - and there were at that drunken revel . . . the 
Governor of Michigan, the chief of police of Detroit, the chief of the State 
Police, politicians, club men, gamblers, criminals, bootleggers, all there 
fraternizing in the spirit of the most perfect equality under the god Bacchus, 
and I will say that there were four judges of the circuit of Michigan at that 
drunken revel, at which naked hoochy-koochy dancers appeared later . . . 
you find that hypocrisy today over the length and breadth of this land. 26 

As Ligget pointed out, evasion of Prohibition generated enormous 
funds which were reinvested in other forms of crime such as 


prostitution, but above all gambling, which for the first time were 
organized on a systematic and quasi-legitimate basis. More recent 
studies confirm his view that Prohibition brought about a qualitative 
and - as it has turned out - permanent change in the scale and 
sophistication of American organized crime. Running large-scale 
beer-convoys required powers of organization soon put to use 
elsewhere. In the early 1920s, for the first time, gambling syndicates 
used phone-banks to take bets from all over the country. Meyer 
Lansky and Benjamin Siegel adapted bootlegging patterns to orga- 
nize huge nationwide gambling empires. Prohibition was the 'take- 
off point' for big crime in America; and of course it continued after 
the twenty-first Amendment, which ended prohibition, was ratified 
in December 1933. Throughout the 1930s organized crime matured, 
and it was from 1944 onwards, for instance, that the small desert 
town of Las Vegas was transformed into the world's gambling 
capital. Prohibition, far from 'Americanizing' minorities, tended to 
reinforce minority characteristics through specific patterns of crime: 
among Italians, Jews, Irish and, not least, among blacks, where from 
the early 1920s West Indians introduced the 'numbers game' and 
other gambling rings, forming powerful black ghetto crime-citadels 
in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit. 27 Studies by the 
Justice Department's Law Enforcement Assistance Administration in 
the 1970s indicate that the beginning of Prohibition in 1920 was the 
starting-point for most identifiable immigrant crime-families, which 
continue to flourish and perpetuate themselves in our age. 28 

The truth is, Prohibition was a clumsy and half-hearted piece of 
social engineering, designed to produce a homogenization of a mixed 
community by law. It did not of course involve the enormous cruelty 
of Lenin's social engineering in Russia, or Mussolini's feeble imita- 
tion of it in Italy, but in its own way it inflicted the same damage to 
social morals and the civilized cohesion of the community. The 
tragedy is that it was quite unnecessary. America's entrepreneurial 
market system was itself an effective homogenizer, binding together 
and adjudicating between ethnic and racial groups without regard to 
colour or national origins. The way in which the enormous German 
and Polish immigrations, for instance, had been absorbed within an 
Anglo-Saxon framework, was astounding: the market had done it. 
Mitchell Palmer was mistaken in thinking that aliens in the mass 
brought radical politics. On the contrary: they were fleeing closed 
systems to embrace the free one. They were voting with their feet for 
the entrepreneurial economy. 

Indeed, at the very time Palmer expected revolution to manifest 
itself, American radicalism, especially of a collectivist kind, was 
entering a period of steady decline. It had never been strong. Marx 


had been unable to explain why America, which, by the end of his life, 
had become the most powerful and inventive of the capitalist 
economies, showed no sign whatever of producing the conditions for 
the proletarian revolution which he claimed mature capitalism made 
inevitable. Engels sought to meet the difficulty by arguing that socialism 
was weak there 'just because America is so purely bourgeois, so entirely 
without a feudal past and therefore proud of its purely bourgeois 
organization'. Lenin (1908) thought that in the USA, 'the model and 
ideal of our bourgeois civilization', socialism had to deal with 'the most 
firmly established democratic systems, which confront the proletariat 
with purely socialist tasks'. Antonio Gramsci blamed 'Americanism', 
which he defined as 'pure rationalism without any of the class values 
derived from feudalism'. H.G. Wells in The Future of America (1906) 
attributed the absence of a powerful socialist party to the symmetrical 
absence of a conservative one: 'All Americans are, from the English 
point of view, Liberals of one sort or another.' 29 

Until the 1920s there were some grounds for thinking, however, that 
an American Left might eventually come to occupy a significant role in 
politics. In the years before 1914 the Socialist Party had about 125,000 
members, who included the leaders of the mineworkers, brewery 
workers, carpenters and ironworkers. It elected over 1,000 public 
officials, including the mayors of important towns and two congress- 
men; in 1912 its candidate Eugene Debs got 6 per cent of the popular 
vote. But thereafter the decline was continuous. The Workingmen's 
Party had some successes in a few cities in the 1920s and early 1930s. 
But the mainstream socialist parties floundered. The failure of the 
Socialist Party itself was attributed to its inability to decide whether it 
was a mass political party, a pressure group, a revolutionary sect or just 
an educational force, attempting to be all four at the same time. 30 
Even in the desperate year 1932 Norman Thomas got only 2 per cent of 
the presidential vote. The Communist Party equally failed to become a 
new expression of American radicalism and became a mere US 
appendage of Soviet policy. 31 Its highest score was the 1,150,000 it 
helped to collect for Henry Wallace, the Progressive candidate, in 1 948 . 
During the next thirty years the decline continued. In the 1976 election, 
for instance, the Socialists and five other radical parties fielded 
candidates; none polled as many as 100,000 out of a total of 80 million 
votes: added together they got less than a quarter of 1 per cent of votes 
cast. By the beginning of the 1980s the United States was the only 
democratic industrialized nation in which not a single independent 
socialist or labour party representative held elective office. 

This pattern was adumbrated by the politics of the 1 920s. Whereas in 
Britain, Austria, France, Germany, Spain and the Scandinavian 
countries, Social Democratic parties became the principal opposition 


parties or even formed or participated in governments, in the USA 
the decade was a Republican one. The Republican Party was, of 
course, the party of Lincoln, which had emancipated the slaves and 
won the Civil War. Blacks, who poured into Northern cities during 
the First World War and after, still voted Republican in overwhelm- 
ing numbers. It had also been the party of Theodore Roosevelt and 
progressive capital. But it was, at the same time, the party of social 
conservatism and free market economics. In the 1920s its mastery 
was overwhelming. Between 1920 and 1932, Republicans controlled 
the White House and the Senate for the whole time and the House 
except for the years 1930-2. 32 Warren Harding in 1920 got 60.2 per 
cent, the largest popular majority yet recorded (16,152,000 to 
9,147,000), carrying every state outside the South. The Republicans 
took the House by 303 to 131 and won ten Senate seats to give them 
a majority of twenty-two. 33 In 1924 Calvin Coolidge won by 
15,725,000 votes to a mere 8,386,000 for his Democrat rival, John 
W. Davis. In 1928 Herbert Hoover won by 21,391,000 votes to 
15,016,000 for Al Smith, a landslide electoral college victory of 444 
to 87; he carried all but two Northern states and five in the 'Solid 
South'. The Socialists polled less than 300,000, the Communists 
under 50,000. 34 

These repeated successes indicated what Coolidge called 'a state of 
contentment seldom before seen', a marriage between a democratic 
people and its government, and the economic system the governing 
party upheld and epitomized, which is very rare in history and worth 
examining. In order to do so effectively it is necessary to probe 
beneath the conventional historiography of the period, especially as 
it revolves round its two key figures, Harding and Coolidge. 

Harding won the election on his fifty-fifth birthday, which, 
characteristically, he celebrated by playing a round of golf. He did 
not believe that politics were very important or that people should 
get excited about them or allow them to penetrate too far into their 
everyday lives. In short he was the exact opposite of Lenin, Mussolini 
and Hitler, and the professional Social Democratic politicians of 
Europe. He came from Ohio, the Republican political heartland, 
which had produced six out of ten presidents since 1865. He had 
emerged from poverty to create a successful small-town paper, the 
Marion Star, and had then become director of a bank, a phone 
company, a lumber firm and a building society. He was decent, 
small-town America in person: a handsome man, always genial and 
friendly, but dignified. He was not above answering the White House 
front door in person, and he always took a horse-ride on Sunday. He 
told a cheering crowd in Boston in May 1920: 'America's present 
need is not heroics but healing, not nostrums but normalcy; not 


revolution but restoration . . . not surgery but serenity.' 35 America as 
Arcadia was a reality to him; somehow, he wished to preserve it. To 
get elected, he stuck old President McKinley's flagpole in front of his 
house and ran a 'front porch' campaign. Many famous people made 
the pilgrimage to Marion to listen to his campaign talk, Al Jolson, 
Ethel Barrymore, Lillian Gish, Pearl White among them, but 600,000 
ordinary folk too, thousands of them black - hence the Democrat 
rumour that Harding had negro blood. Everybody liked Harding. The 
worst thing about him was his sharp-faced wife, Flossie, known as 
'the Duchess', of whom Harding said (not in her hearing), 'Mrs 
Harding wants to be the drum-major in every band that passes'. 36 
Harding believed that America's matchless society was the crea- 
tion of voluntarism and that only government could spoil it. If he 
could plant a Rotary Club in every city and hamlet, he said, he would 
'rest assured that our ideals of freedom would be safe and civilization 
would progress'. That was a general view. 'There is only one 
first-class civilization in the world', wrote the Ladies 3 Home Journal. 
'It is right here in the United States.' That was also the view of most 
American intellectuals, to judge not by their subsequent rationaliza- 
tions in the Thirties but by what they actually wrote at the time. The 
same month Harding signed the 1921 Immigration Act, Scott 
Fitzgerald was writing to Edmund Wilson from London: 

God damn the continent of Europe. It is of merely antiquarian interest. 
Rome is only a few years behind Tyre and Babylon. The negroid streak 
creeps northward to defile the Nordic race. Already the Italians have the 
souls of blackamoors. Raise the bar of immigration and permit only 
Scandinavians, Teutons, Anglo-Saxons and Celts to enter. France made me 
sick. Its silly pose as the thing the world has to save .... I believe at last in 
the white man's burden. We are as far above the modern Frenchman as he is 
above the Negro. Even in art! Italy has no one .... They're thru and done. 
You may have spoken in jest about New York as the capital of culture but 
in 25 years it will be just as London is now. Culture follows money .... We 
will be the Romans in the next generations as the English are now. 37 

Harding believed this cultural supremacy would arise inevitably 
provided government allowed the wheels of free enterprise to turn. 
Far from selecting cronies from 'the buck-eye state' (as later alleged), 
he formed a cabinet of strong men: Charles Evans Hughes as 
Secretary of State, Andrew Mellon at the Treasury, Hoover at 
Commerce. He hurried with his cabinet list straight to the Senate, 
and his choice for the Department of the Interior, Albert Fall, 
Senator for New Mexico, sported a handle-bar moustache and wore 
a flowing black cape and broad-brimmed stetson — normalcy itself! — 
was so popular he was confirmed by immediate acclamation, the 


only time in American history a cabinet member has been accorded 
such a vote of confidence. 38 The cabinet list was a cross-section of 
successful America: a car manufacturer, two bankers, a hotel direc- 
tor, a farm- journal editor, an international lawyer, a rancher, an 
engineer and only two professional politicians. 

Harding inherited an absentee presidency and one of the sharpest 
recessions in American history. By July 1921 it was all over and the 
economy was booming again. Harding had done nothing except cut 
government expenditure, the last time a major industrial power 
treated a recession by classic laissez-faire methods, allowing wages to 
fall to their natural level. Benjamin Anderson of Chase Manhattan 
was later to call it 'our last natural recovery to full employment'. 39 
But the cuts were important. Indeed, Harding can be described as the 
only president in American history who actually brought about 
massive cuts in government spending, producing nearly a 40 per cent 
saving over Wilsonian peacetime expenditure. 40 Nor was this a wild 
assault. It was part of a considered plan which included the creation 
of the Bureau of the Budget, under the Budget and Accounting Act of 
1921, to bring authorizations under systematic central scrutiny and 
control. Its first director, Charles Dawes, said in 1922 that, before 
Harding, 'everyone did as they damn pleased'; cabinet members were 
'commanchees', Congress 'a nest of cowards'. Then Harding 'waved 
the axe and said that anybody who didn't co-operate his head would 
come off; the result was 'velvet for the taxpayer'. 41 

Harding's regime was agreeably liberal. Against the advice of his 
cabinet and his wife he insisted on releasing the Socialist leader 
Eugene Debs, whom Wilson had imprisoned, on Christmas Eve 
1921: 'I want him to eat his Christmas dinner with his wife.' He 
freed twenty-three other political prisoners the same day, commuted 
death-sentences on the 'Wobblies' (Industrial Workers of the World) 
and before the end of his presidency had virtually cleared the gaols of 
political offenders. 42 He took the press into his confidence, calling 
reporters by their Christian names. When he moved, he liked to 
surround himself with a vast travelling 'family', many invited on the 
spur of the moment, occupying ten whole cars on his presidential 
train. He chewed tobacco, one of his chewing companions being 
Thomas Edison, who remarked, 'Harding is all right. Any man who 
chews tobacco is all right.' He drank hard liquor too, asking people 
up to his bedroom for a snort, and it was known he served whiskey 
in the White House. Twice a week he invited his intimates over for 
'food and action' ('action' meant poker). Commerce Secretary 
Hoover, a stuffed shirt, was the only one who declined to play: 'It 
irks me to see it in the White House.' 43 

Hoover's instinct was correct: a president cannot be too careful, as 


had been demonstrated in virtually every presidency since. There is 
no evidence that Harding was ever anything other than a generous 
and unsuspicious man. The only specific charge of dishonesty 
brought against him was that the sale of the Marion Star was a fix; 
this was decisively refuted in court, the two men who bought the 
paper receiving $100,000 in damages. But Harding made two errors 
of judgement: appointing the florid Senator Fall, who turned out to 
be a scoundrel, and believing that his Ohio campaign-manager Harry 
Daugherty, whom he made Attorney-General, would screen and 
protect him from the influence-peddlars who swarmed up from his 
home state. 'I know who the crooks are and I want to stand between 
Harding and them,' Daugherty said. This proved an empty boast. 44 

The result was a series of blows which came in quick succession 
from early 1923. In February Harding discovered that Charles 
Forbes, Director of the Veterans Bureau, had been selling off 
government medical supplies at rock-low prices: he summoned him 
to the White House, shook him 'as a dog would a rat' and shouted 
'You double-crossing bastard'. Forbes fled to Europe and resigned, 
15 February. 45 On 4 March Albert Fall resigned. It was subsequently 
established that he had received a total of $400,000 in return for 
granting favourable leases of government oilfields at Elk Hills in 
California and Salt Creek (Teapot Dome), Wyoming. Fall was 
eventually gaoled for a year in 1929, though his leases later turned 
out well for America, since they involved building vital pipelines and 
installations at Pearl Harbor. 46 But that was not apparent at the time 
and Fall's departure was a disaster for Harding, more particularly 
since Charles Cramer, counsel for the Veterans Bureau, committed 
suicide a few days later. 

Finally on 29 May Harding forced himself to see a crony of 
Daugherty's, Jess Smith, who together with other Ohians had been 
selling government favours from what became known as 'the little 
green house [no. 1625] on K Street'. The 'Ohio Gang', as the group 
was soon called, had nothing to do with Harding and it was never 
legally established that even Daugherty shared their loot (he was 
acquitted when tried in 1926-7, though he refused to take the stand). 
But after Harding confronted Smith with his crimes on 29 May, the 
wretched man shot himself the following day and this second suicide 
had a deplorable effect on the President's morale. According to 
William Allen White (not a wholly reliable witness), Harding told 
him, 'I can take care of my enemies all right. But my damn friends, 
my God-damn friends, White, they're the ones that keep me walking 
the floors nights.' Given time, Harding would certainly have man- 
aged to stabilize the situation and refute the rumours of guilt by 
association — as have several presidents since — for his own hands 


were completely clean, so far as the latest historical research has been 
able to establish. But the following month he left for a trip to Alaska 
and the West Coast and he died, of a cerebral haemorrhage, at the 
Palace Hotel, San Francisco, in early August. His wife followed him 
in November 1924 having first destroyed (so it was then believed) all 
Harding's papers, and this was taker! as conclusive evidence of guilty 
secrets. 47 

The false historiography which presented Harding and his admin- 
istration as the most corrupt in American history began almost 
immediately with the publication in 1924 in the New Republic of a 
series of articles by its violently anti-business editor, Bruce Bliven. 
This created the basic mythology of the 'Ohio Gang', run by 
Daugherty, who had deliberately recruited Harding as a front man as 
long ago as 1912 as part of a long-term conspiracy to hand over the 
entire nation to Andrew Mellon and Big Business. Thereafter Hard- 
ing was fair game for sensationalists. In 1927 Nan Britton, daughter 
of a Marion doctor, published The President's Daughter, claiming 
she had had a baby girl by Harding in 1919. In 1928 William Allen 
White repeated the conspiracy theory in Masks in a Pageant and 
again ten years later in his life of Coolidge, A Puritan in Babylon. In 
1930 a former fbi agent, Gaston Means, produced the best-selling 
The Strange Death of President Harding, portraying wholly imagin- 
ary drunken orgies with chorus girls at the K Street house, with 
Harding prominent in the 'action'. Equally damaging was the 1933 
memoir Crowded Hours, by Theodore Roosevelt's daughter, Alice 
Roosevelt Longworth, which presented Harding's White House 
study as a speakeasy: 'the air heavy with tobacco smoke, trays with 
bottles containing every imaginable brand of whisky stood about, 
cards and poker chips ready at hand — a general atmosphere of 
waistcoat unbuttoned, feet on the desk and the spittoon 
alongside .... Harding was not a bad man. He was just a slob.' 48 To 
cap it all came an apparently scholarly work by a New York Sun 
writer, Samuel Hopkins Adams, called Incredible Era: the Life and 
Times of Warren Gamaliel Harding (1939), which welded together 
all the inventions and myths into a solid orthodoxy. By this time the 
notion of Harding as the criminal king of the Golden Calf era had 
become the received version of events not only in popular books like 
Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday ... (1931) but in standard 
academic history. When in 1964 the Harding Papers (which had not 
been burnt) were opened to scholars, no truth at all was found in any 
of the myths, though it emerged that Harding, a pathetically shy man 
with women, had had a sad and touching friendship with the wife of 
a Marion store-owner before his presidency. The Babylonian image 
was a fantasy, and in all essentials Harding had been an honest and 


exceptionally shrewd president. But by then it was too late. A New 
York Times poll of seventy- five historians in 1962 showed that he 
was rated 'a flat failure' with 'very little dissent'. 49 

The treatment of Harding is worth dwelling on because, taken in 
conjunction with a similar denigration of his vice-president and 
successor Calvin Coolidge, a man of totally different temperament, it 
amounts to the systematic misrepresentation of public policy over a 
whole era. Coolidge was the most internally consistent and single- 
minded of modern American presidents. If Harding loved America as 
Arcadia, Coolidge was the best-equipped to preserve it as such. He 
came from the austere hills of Vermont, of the original Puritan New 
England stock, and was born over his father's store. No public man 
carried into modern times more comprehensively the founding 
principles of Americanism: hard work, frugality, freedom of con- 
science, freedom from government, respect for serious culture (he 
went to Amherst, and was exceptionally well-read in classical and 
foreign literature and in history). He was sharp, hatchet-faced, 
'weaned on a pickle' (Alice Longworth), a 'runty, aloof little man, 
who quacks through his nose when he speaks ... he slapped no man 
on the back, pawed no man's shoulder, squeezed no man's hand' 
(William Allen White). 50 He married a beautiful, raven-haired 
schoolteacher called Grace, about whom no one ever said a critical 
word. During their courtship he translated Dante's Inferno into 
English but immediately after the wedding ceremony he presented 
her with a bag of fifty-two pairs of socks that needed darning. He 
always saved his money. As Harding's vice-president he lived in four 
rooms in Willard's Hotel and gladly accepted the role as the 
Administration's official diner-out — 'Got to eat somewhere.' He ran 
the White House down to the smallest detail (rather like Curzon, but 
much more efficiently), scrutinizing and initialling all household 
bills, and prowling round the deepest recesses of the kitchens. He 
banked his salary and by 1928 had $250,000 invested. 51 He went to 
bed at ten, a point celebrated by Groucho Marx in Animal Crackers: 
'Isn't it past your bedtime, Calvin?'. But the notion propagated by 
Mencken - 'He slept more than any other president, whether by day 
or by night. Nero fiddled but Coolidge only snored' - was mislead- 
ing. 52 No president was ever better briefed on anything that mattered 
or less often caught unprepared by events or the doings of his team. 

It suited Coolidge, in fact, to mislead people into believing he was 
less sophisticated and active than he was (a ploy later imitated by 
Dwight Eisenhower). 'A natural churchwarden in a rural parish,' 
wrote Harold Laski, 'who has by accident strayed into great 
affairs.' 53 That was exactly the impression Coolidge wished to 
convey. In fact few men have been better prepared for the presidency, 


moving up every rung of the public ladder: parish councillor, 
assemblyman, mayor, State Representative, State Senator, President 
of the State Senate, Lieutenant-Governor, Governor, Vice-President. 
At every stage he insisted that government should do as little as was 
necessary ('He didn't do anything', remarked the political comic 
Will Rogers, 'but that's what the people wanted done'). 54 But he 
also insisted that, when it did act, it should be absolutely decisive. 
He made his national reputation in 1919 by crushing the Boston 
police strike: 'There is no right to strike against the public safety by 
anybody, anywhere, anytime.' He was elected Vice-President under 
the slogan 'Law and Order', and President with the messages 'Keep 
Cool with Coolidge', 'Coolidge or Chaos' and 'The chief business 
of the American people is business'. He articulated a generally held 
belief that the function of government is primarily to create a 
climate in which agriculture, manufacturing and commerce can 
seize the opportunities which God and nature provide. At the 
climax of his campaign for the presidency in 1924 a deputation of 
America's most successful men of affairs, led by Henry Ford, 
Harvey Firestone and Thomas Edison, called at his house. Edison, 
who as the world's best-known inventor acted as spokesman, told 
the crowd outside, 'The United States is lucky to have Calvin 
Coolidge.' 55 He won this and all his other contests handsomely, 
most of them by landslides. 

Coolidge reflected America's Arcadian separateness during the 
1920s by showing that, in deliberate contrast to the strident activ- 
ism taking over so much of Europe and driven by the idea that 
political motion had replaced religious piety as the obvious form of 
moral worth, it was still possible to practise successfully the archaic 
virtue of stasis. Coolidge believed that all activity - above all of 
government - not dictated by pressing necessity was likely to 
produce undesirable results and certainly unforeseen ones. His 
minimalism extended even, indeed especially, to speech. It was said 
that he and his father, Colonel Coolidge, communicated 'by little 
more than the ugh-ugh of the Indian'. 56 He rejoiced in his nickname 
'Silent Cal'. 'The Coolidges never slop over', he boasted. His advice 
as president to the Massachusetts senate was:- 'Be brief. Above all, 
be brief.' Taking over the White House, he settled the 'Ohio Gang' 
scandals by acting very fast, appointing special counsel and by 
saying as little as possible himself. Campaigning in 1924, he noted: 
T don't recall any candidate for president that ever injured himself 
very much by not talking.' 57 'The things I never say never get me 
into trouble', he remarked. In his Autobiography, he said his most 
important rule 'consists in never doing anything that someone else 
can do for you'. Nine-tenths of a president's callers at the White 


House, he stressed, 'want something they ought not to have. If you 
keep dead still they will run out in three or four minutes.' 58 

Coolidge was as successful in handling the press as Harding but 
for quite different reasons. Not only did he keep no press secretary 
and refuse to hold on-the-record press conferences; he resented it if 
journalists addressed any remarks to him, even 'Good morning'. But 
if written questions were submitted in advance to his forbidding 
factotum, C. Bascom Slemp, he would write the answers himself: 
short, very dry, but informative and truthful. 59 The press liked his 
dependability, flavoured by eccentric habits: he used to get his valet 
to rub his hair with vaseline and, in the Oval Office, he would 
sometimes summon his staff by bell and then hide under his desk, 
observing their mystification with his curious wry detachment. 
Journalists also sensed he was wholly uncorrupted by power. On 2 
August 1927, he summoned thirty of them, told them, 'The line 
forms on the left', and handed each a two-by-nine-inch slip of paper 
on which he had typed: 'I do not choose to run for President in 
1928.' His final departure from the White House was characteristic. 
'Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my adminis- 
tration', he snapped at the press, 'has been minding my own 
business.' 60 

Yet if Coolidge was sparing of words, what he did say was always 
pithy and clear, showing that he had reflected deeply on history and 
developed a considered, if sombre, public philosophy. No one in the 
twentieth century, not even his eloquent contemporary F.E. Smith, 
Earl of Birkenhead, defined more elegantly the limitations of govern- 
ment and the need for individual endeavour, which necessarily 
involved inequalities, to advance human happiness. 'Government 
cannot relieve from toil', he told the Massachusetts senate in 1914. 
'The normal must take care of themselves. Self-government means 
self-support .... Ultimately, property rights and personal rights are 
the same thing .... History reveals no civilized people among whom 
there was not a highly educated class and large aggregations of 
wealth. Large profits means large payrolls. Inspiration has always 
come from above.' 61 Political morality, he insisted, must always be 
judged not by intentions but by effects: 'Economy is idealism in its 
most practical form', was the key sentence in his 1925 Inaugural. In an 
address to the New York chamber of commerce on 19 November 
that year he gave in lucid and lapidary form perhaps the last classic 
statement of laissez-faire philosophy. Government and business 
should remain independent and separate. It was very desirable 
indeed that one should be directed from Washington, the other from 
New York. Wise and prudent men must always prevent the mutual 
usurpations which foolish or greedy men sought on either side. 


Business was the pursuit of gain but it also had a moral purpose: 'the 
mutual organized effort of society to minister to the economic 
requirement of civilization .... It rests squarely on the law of service. 
It has for its main reliance truth and faith and justice. In its larger 
sense it is one of the greatest contributing forces to the moral and 
spiritual advancement of the race.' That was why government had a 
warrant to promote its success by providing the conditions of 
competition within a framework of security. Its job was to suppress 
privilege wherever it manifested itself and uphold lawful possession 
by providing legal remedies for all wrongs: 'The prime element in the 
value of all property is the knowledge that its peaceful enjoyment 
will be publicly defended.' Without this legal and public defence 'the 
value of your tall buildings would shrink to the price of the 
waterfront of old Carthage or corner-lots in ancient Babylon'. The 
more business regulated itself, the less need there would be for 
government to act to ensure competition; it could therefore concen- 
trate on its twin task of economy and of improving the national 
structure within which business could increase profits and invest- 
ment, raise wages and provide better goods and services at the lowest 
possible prices. 62 

This public philosophy appeared to possess a degree of concor- 
dance with the actual facts of life which was rare in human 
experience. Under Harding and still more under Coolidge, the USA 
enjoyed a general prosperity which was historically unique in its 
experience or that of any other society. When the decade was over, 
and the prosperity had been, for the moment, wholly eclipsed, it was 
seen retrospectively, especially by writers and intellectuals, as grossly 
materialistic, febrile, philistine, and at the same time insubstantial 
and ephemeral, unmerited by any solid human accomplishment. The 
judgemental images were biblical: of a grotesque Belshazzar's Feast 
before catastrophe. 'The New Generation had matured,' Scott Fitz- 
gerald wrote in 1931, 'to find all gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths 
in man shaken; all they knew was that America was going on the 
greatest, gaudiest spree in history.' 63 Edmund Wilson saw the 
Twenties as an aberration in the basic seriousness of the American 
conscience: 'the fireworks of the Twenties were in the nature of a 
drunken fiesta'. 64 In The Epic of America, published in 1931, James 
Truslow Adams summed it up: 'Having surrendered idealism for the 
sake of prosperity, the "practical men" bankrupted us on both of 
them.' 65 There were indeed some intellectuals who felt the whole 
attempt to spread general prosperity was misconceived and certain to 
invoke destruction. Michael Rostovtzeff, then finishing his monu- 
mental history of the economy of antiquity, asked: 'Is it possible to 
extend a higher civilization to the lower classes without debasing its 


standard and diluting its quality to the vanishing point? Is not every 
civilization bound to decay as soon as it begins to penetrate the 
masses?' 66 

But the view that the 1920s was a drunken spree destructive of 
civilized values can be substantiated only by the systematic distortion 
or denial of the historical record. The prosperity was very wide- 
spread and very solid. It was not universal: in the farming commun- 
ity particularly it was patchy, and it largely excluded certain older 
industrial communities, such as the textile trade of New England. 67 
But it was more widely distributed than had been possible in any 
community of this size before, and it involved the acquisition, by tens 
of millions, of the elements of economic security which had hitherto 
been denied them throughout the whole of history. The growth was 
spectacular. On a 1933-8 index of 100, it was 58 in 1921 and passed 
110 in 1929. That involved an increase in national income from 
$59.4 to $87.2 billion in eight years, with real per capita income 
rising from $522 to $716: not Babylonian luxury but a modest 
comfort never hitherto possible. 68 The expansion expressed itself not 
merely in spending and credit. For the first time, many millions of 
working people acquired insurance (life and industrial insurance 
policies passed the 100 million mark in the 1920s), savings, which 
quadrupled during the decade, and a stake in industry. Thus, an 
analysis of those buying fifty shares or more in one of the biggest 
public utility stock issues of the 1920s shows that the largest groups 
were (in order): housekeepers, clerks, factory workers, merchants, 
chauffeurs and drivers, electricians, mechanics and foremen. 69 The 
Twenties was also characterized by the biggest and longest 
building-boom: as early as 1924 some 11 million families had 
acquired their own homes. 

The heart of the consumer boom was in personal transport, which 
in a vast country, where some of the new cities were already thirty 
miles across, was not a luxury. At the beginning of 1914, 1,258,062 
cars had been registered in the USA, which produced 569,054 during 
the year. Production rose to 5,621,715 in 1929, by which time cars 
registered in the USA totalled 26,501,443, five-sixths of the world 
production and one car for every five people in the country. This 
gives some idea of America's global industrial dominance. In 1924 
the four leading European car producers turned out only 1 1 per cent 
of the vehicles manufactured in the USA. Even by the end of the 
decade European registrations were only 20 per cent of the US level 
and production a mere 13 per cent. 70 The meaning of these figures 
was that the working class as a whole was acquiring the individual 
freedom of medium- and long-distance movement hitherto limited to 
a section of the middle class. Meanwhile, though rail was in decline, 


the numbers carried falling from 1,269 million in 1920 to 786 
million in 1929, the middle class was moving into air travel: air 
passengers rose from 49,713 in 1928 to 417,505 in 1930 (by 1940 
the figure was 3,185,278, and nearly 8 million by 1945). 71 What the 
Twenties demonstrates was the relative speed with which industrial 
productivity could transform luxuries into necessities and spread 
them down the class pyramid. 

Indeed, to a growing extent it was a dissolvent of class and other 
barriers. Next to cars, it was the new electrical industry which fuelled 
Twenties prosperity. Expenditure on radios rose from a mere 
$10,648,000 in 1920 to $411,637,000 in 1929, and total electrical 
products tripled in the decade to $2.4 billion. 72 First the mass radio 
audience, signalled by the new phenomenon of 'fan mail' in autumn 
1923, then regular attendance, especially by young people, at the 
movies (from 1927 the talkies) brought about the Americanization of 
immigrant communities and a new classlessness in dress, speech and 
attitudes which government policy, under Wilson, had been power- 
less to effect and which Harding and Coolidge wisely forwent. 
Sinclair Lewis, revisiting 'Main Street' for the Nation in 1924, 
described two working-class, small-town girls wearing 'well-cut 
skirts, silk stockings, such shoes as can be bought nowhere in 
Europe, quiet blouses, bobbed hair, charming straw hats, and easily 
cynical expressions terrifying to an awkward man'. One of them 
served hash. 'Both their dads are Bohemian; old mossbacks, tough 
old birds with whiskers that can't sling more English than a muskrat. 
And yet in one generation, here's their kids — real queens.' 73 

Such young people identified with movie-stars; for them, movies 
were a force of liberation, children from parents, wives from 
husbands. A motion-picture research survey quoted one seventeen- 
year-old: 'Movies are a godsend, and to express my sentiments long 
may they live and long may they stay in the land of the free and the 
home of the brave.' Another: 'I began smoking after watching 
Dolores Costella.' 74 Smoking was then seen as progressive and 
liberating, specially for women; and healthy - 'Reach for a Lucky 
instead of a sweet'; 'slenderize in a Sensible Way'. Advertising was a 
window into liberation too, especially for women of immigrant 
families. It educated them in the possibilities of life. The Twenties in 
America marked the biggest advances for women of any decade, 
before or since. By 1930 there were 10,546,000 women 'gainfully 
employed' outside the home: the largest number, as before, were in 
domestic/personal service (3,483,000) but there were now nearly 2 
million in clerical work, 1,860,000 in manufacturing and, most 
encouraging of all, 1,226,000 in the professions. 75 Equally signifi- 
cant, and culturally more important, were the liberated housewives, 


the 'Blondies', to whom their appliances, cars and husbands' high 
wages had brought leisure for the first time. Writing on 'The New 
Status of Women' in 1931, Mary Ross epitomized the Blondies 'raised 
. . . above the need for economic activity': 

They raise their children — one, two, occasionally three or four of them — with 
a care probably unknown to any past generation. It is they who founded the 
great culture-club movement . . . they who spend the great American income, 
sustain the movie industry, buy or borrow the novels, support the fashions 
and the beauty-culture businesses, keep bridge and travel and medical cults at 
high levels of activity and help along the two-car-family standard. Out of this 
sudden burst of female leisure have come many good things, much of the 
foundation of American philanthropy for example. 76 

The coming of family affluence was one factor in the decline of 
radical politics and their union base. A 1929 survey quoted a union 
organizer: The Ford car has done an awful lot of harm to the unions 
here and everywhere else. As long as men have enough money to buy a 
second-hand Ford and tires and gasoline, they'll be out on the road 
and paying no attention to union meetings.' 77 In 1915, 1921 and 1922 
the unions lost three key Supreme Court actions, and their 1919 
strikes were disastrous failures. American Federation of Labor 
membership dropped from a high-point of 4,078,740 in 1920 to 
2,532,261 in 1932. 'Welfare capitalism' provided company sports 
facilities, holidays with pay, insurance and pension schemes, so that 
by 1927 4,700,000 workers were covered by group insurance and 
1,400,000 were members of company unions. 79 The American 
worker appeared to be on the threshold of a hitherto unimaginable 
bourgeois existence of personal provision and responsibility which 
made collective action increasingly superfluous. . 

This was, as might have- been expected, linked to a cultural 
liberation which belied the accusations of philistinism hurled (later, 
rather than at the time) at the Coolidge era. Perhaps the most 
important single development of the age was the spread of education. 
Between 1910 and 1930 total educational spending rose fourfold, 
from $426.25 million to $2.3 billion; higher education spending 
increased fourfold too, to nearly one billion a year. Illiteracy fell 
during the period from 7.7 to 4.3 per cent. The Twenties was the age of 
the Book of the Month Club and the Literary Guild; more new books 
were bought than ever before but there was a persistent devotion to 
the classics. Throughout the Twenties, David Copperfield was rated 
America's favourite novel, and among those voted 'the ten greatest 
men in history' were Shakespeare, Dickens, Tennyson and Long- 
fellow. 80 Jazz Age it may have been but by the end of the decade there 
were 35,000 youth orchestras in the nation. The decade was marked 


both by the historical conservation movement which restored colon- 
ial Williamsburg and the collection of contemporary painting which 
created the Museum of Modern Art in 1929. 81 

The truth is the Twenties was the most fortunate decade in 
American history, even more fortunate than the equally prosperous 
1950s decade, because in the Twenties the national cohesion brought 
about by relative affluence, the sudden cultural density and the 
expressive originality of 'Americanism' were new and exciting. In 
1927 Andre Siegfried, the French academician, published America 
Comes of Age ', in which he argued that 'as a result of the revolution- 
ary changes brought about by modern methods of production ... the 
American people are now creating on a vast scale an entirely original 
social structure', The point might have brought a wry response from 
Henry James, who had died eleven years before. In 1878 he had 
written a little biography of Hawthorne which contained a cele- 
brated and (to Americans) highly offensive passage listing all the 
'items of high civilization, as it exists in other countries, which are 
absent from the texture of American life' and which - so he argued - 
supplied the rich social texture essential to the writing of imaginative 
literature. America had, he enumerated, 

No sovereign, no court, no personal loyalty, no aristocracy, no church, no 
clergy, no army, no diplomatic service, no country gentlemen, no palaces, 
no castles, nor manors, nor old country-houses, nor parsonages, nor 
thatched cottages, nor ivied ruins; no cathedrals, nor abbeys, nor Norman 
churches; no great Universities, nor public schools - no Oxford, nor Eton, 
nor Harrow; no literature, no novels, no museums, no pictures, no political 
society, no sporting class — no Epsom nor Ascot! 82 

By the end of the Twenties America had achieved the social depth 
and complexity whose absence James had mourned, and achieved it 
moreover through what Hawthorne himself dismissed as the 'com- 
monplace prosperity' of American life. 83 But it was prosperity on an 
unprecedented and monumental scale, such as to constitute a sdcial 
phenomenon in itself, and bring in its train for the first time a 
national literary universe of its own. The decade was introduced by 
F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise (1918) and it ended with A 
Farewell to Arms (1929) by Ernest Hemingway, who was to prove 
the most influential writer of fiction in English between the wars. It 
included Sinclair Lewis's Main Street (1920), John Dos Passos's 
Three Soldiers (1921), Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy 
(1926), William Faulkner's Soldier's Pay (1926), Upton Sinclair's 
Boston (1928) and Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel (1929). 
The emergence of this galaxy of novels, and of playwrights like Eugene 
O'Neill and Thornton Wilder, was evidence, as Lionel Trilling put it, 


that 'life in America has increasingly thickened since the nineteenth 
century', producing not so much the 'social observation' James 
required of a novel but an 'intense social awareness', so that 'our present 
definition of a serious book is one which holds before us an image of 
society to consider and condemn'. 84 

This growing tendency of American culture to dispense with its 
umbilical source of supply from Europe began in the 1920s to produce 
forms of expression which were sui generis, not merely in cinema and 
radio broadcasting, where specific American contributions were 
present at the creation, but on the stage. The most spectacular maturing 
of the decade was the New York musical. It was the progeny, to be sure, 
of the Viennese operetta, the French boulevard music-play, English 
Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas and the English music-hall (its 
origins might be traced back, perhaps, to The Beggar's Opera of 1728) 
but the ingredients of American minstrel-show, burlesque, jazz and 
vaudeville transformed it into a completely new form of popular art. 
There had been prolific composers in the proto-genre before 1914, 
notably Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern. But their work then seemed so 
marginal and fugitive that some of Kern's earliest and best songs have 
disappeared without leaving any copy. 85 It was in the early Twenties 
that the spectacular new prosperity of the Broadway theatres combined 
with the new talents — George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Howard 
Dietz, Cole Porter, Vincent Youmans, Oscar Hammerstein, Lorenz 
Hart and E. Y. Harburg- to bring the American musical into full flower. 
On 12 February 1924 Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue was performed by 
the Paul Whiteman band at the Aeolian Hall. It was the archetypal 
creative event of the decade. And that season, just after Coolidge 
had got himself elected in his own right, Gershwin's Lady, Be Good!, 
the first mature American musical, opened on 1 December in the 
Liberty Theatre, starring Fred Astaire and his sister Adele. 86 It was the 
outstanding event of a Broadway season which included Youmans' 
Lollypop, Kern's Sitting Pretty, Rudolph Friml's and Sigmund 
Romberg's The Student Prince, Irving Berlin's Music Box Revue and 
Sissie and Blake's Chocolate Dandies— among about forty musicals— as 
well as Marc Connelly's Green Pastures, Aaron Copland's First 
Symphony and the arrival of Serge Koussevitsky at the Boston 
Symphony Orchestra. Indeed, with the possible exception of Weimar 
Germany, the America of Coolidge prosperity was the leading theatre 
of western culture at this time, the place where the native creator had the 
widest range of opportunities and where the expatriate artist was most 
likely to find the freedom, the means and the security to express himself. 

The trouble with Twenties expansion was not that it was philistine or 
socially immoral. The trouble was that it was transient. Had it endured, 
carrying with it in its train the less robust but still (at that time) striving 


economies of Europe, a global political transformation must have 
followed which would have rolled back the new forces of totalitarian 
compulsion, with their ruinous belief in social engineering, and 
gradually replaced them with a relationship between government 
and enterprise closer to that which Coolidge outlined to the business 
paladins of New York City. In 1929 the United States had achieved a 
position of paramountcy in total world production never hitherto 
attained during a period of prosperity by any single state: 34.4 per 
cent of the whole, compared with Britain's 10.4, Germany's 10.3, 
Russia's 9.9, France's 5.0, Japan's 4.0, 2.5 for Italy, 2.2 for Canada 
and 1.7 for Poland. The likelihood that the European continent 
would lean towards America's 'original social structure', as Siegfried 
termed it, increased with every year the world economy remained 
buoyant. Granted another decade of prosperity on this scale our 
account of modern times would have been vastly different and 
immeasurably happier. 

On 4 December 1928 Coolidge gave his last public message to the 
new Congress: 

No Congress of the United States ever assembled, on surveying the state of 
the Union, has met with a more pleasing prospect .... The great wealth 
created by our enterprise and industry, and saved by our economy, has had 
the widest distribution among our own people, and has gone out in a steady 
stream to serve the charity and business of the world. The requirements of 
existence have passed beyond the standard of necessity into the region of 
luxury. Enlarging production is consumed by an increasing demand at 
home and an expanding commerce abroad. The country can regard the 
present with satisfaction and anticipate the future with optimism. 87 

This view was not the flatulent self-congratulation of a successful 
politician. Nor was it only the view of the business community. It 
was shared by intellectuals across the whole spectrum. Charles 
Beard's The Rise of American Civilization, published in 1927, saw 
the country 'moving from one technological triumph to another, 
overcoming the exhaustion of crude natural resources and energies, 
effecting an ever-widening distribution of the blessings of civilization 
- health, security, material goods, knowledge, leisure and aesthetic 
appreciation . . . .' 88 Writing the same year, Walter Lippmann con- 
sidered: 'The more or less unconscious and unplanned activities of 
businessmen are for once more novel, more daring and in a sense 
more revolutionary, than the theories of the progressives.' 89 John 
Dewey, in 1929, thought the problem was not how to prolong 
prosperity - he took that for granted - but how to turn 'the Great 
Society' into 'the Great Community'. 90 Even on the Left the feeling 
spread that perhaps business had got it right after all. Lincoln 


Steffens, writing in February 1929, felt that both the USA and the 
Soviet systems might be justified: 'The race is saved one way or the 
other and, I think, both ways.' 91 In 1929 the Nation began a 
three-month series on the permanence of prosperity, drawing atten- 
tion to pockets of Americans who had not yet shared in it; the 
opening article appeared on 23 October, coinciding with the first big 
break in the market. 

It may be that Coolidge himself, a constitutionally suspicious man, 
and not one to believe easily that permanent contentment is to be 
found this side of eternity, was more sceptical than anyone else, and 
certainly less sanguine than he felt it his duty to appear in public. It is 
curious that he declined to run for president again in 1928, when all 
the omens were in his favour, and he was only fifty-six. He told the 
chief justice, Harlan Stone, 'It is a pretty good idea to get out when 
they still want you.' There were very severe limits to his political 
ambitions, just as (in his view) there ought to be very severe limits to 
any political activity. Stone warned him of economic trouble ahead. 
He too thought the market would break. His wife Grace was 
reported: 'Poppa says there's a depression coming.' But Coolidge 
assumed it would be on the 1920 scale, to be cured by a similar phase 
of masterly inactivity. If something more was required, he was not 
the man. Grace Coolidge said he told a member of the cabinet: 'I 
know how to save money. All my training has been in that direction. 
The country is in a sound financial condition. Perhaps the time has 
come when we ought to spend money. I do not feel I am qualified to 
do that.' In his view, Hoover was the Big Spender; not the last of 
them, the first of them. He viewed Hoover's succession to the 
presidency without enthusiasm: 'That man has offered me unsoli- 
cited advice for six years, all of it bad.' Coolidge was the last man on 
earth to reciprocate with his own. Asked, during the interregnum in 
early 1929, for a decision on long-term policy, he snapped, 'We'll 
leave that to the Wonder Boy.' He left the stage without a word, 
pulling down the curtain on Arcadia. 



On Friday 3 October 1929, a new under-loader took part in his first 
pheasant shoot on the Duke of Westminster's estate near Chester. 
The day before a conference of senior officials had been held in the 
main gun-room. As dawn was breaking, the young loader put on his 
new uniform and reported to the head keeper, who 'looked very 
impressive in green velvet jacket and waistcoat with white breeches, 
box-cloth leggings and a hard hat with plenty of gold braid around 
it'. There were eighty keepers dressed in livery: 'a red, wide-brimmed 
hat with a leather band, and a white smock made of a very rough 
material in the Farmer Giles style and gathered in at the waist by a 
wide leather belt with a large brass buckle'. The beaters assembled 
and were inspected. Next to arrive were the leather cases of the 
'guns', with their engraved and crested brass name-plates. Then came 
the guests in their chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royces and Daimlers, and 
finally the Duke himself, to whom the new loader was deputed to 
hand his shooting stick. As soon as 'His Grace' got to his place, the 
head keeper blew his whistle, the beaters started off and the shoot 
began. 'It was all organized to the fine degree that was essential to 
provide the sport that His Grace wanted and expected.' At lunchtime 
the keepers drank ale poured from horn jugs, and in the afternoon 
the Duke's private narrow-gauge train, 'passenger carriages all 
brightly painted in the Grosvenor colours', brought the ladies to join 
the sport. The bag was nearly 2,00c 1 

A fortnight before this quasi-medieval scene was enacted, the 
Duke's good friend Winston Churchill, who until earlier that year 
had been Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer for five years, wrote 
to his wife from America: 

Now my darling I must tell you that vy gt & extraordinary good fortune 
has attended me lately in finances. Sir Harry McGowan asked me rather 
earnestly before I sailed whether he might if an opportunity came buy shares 



on my account without previous consultation. I replied that I could always 
find 2 or 3,000£. I meant this as an investment limit i.e. buying the shares 
outright. He evidently took it as the limit to wh I was prepared to go in a 
speculative purchase on margin. Thus he operated on about ten times my 
usual scale .... So here we have recovered in a few weeks a small 
fortune .... It is a relief to me to feel something behind me and behind you 

It is interesting that Churchill should have been speculating on 
margin right up to the brink of the crash. He was one of about 
600,000 trading on margin of the 1,548,707 customers who, in 
1929, had accounts with firms belonging to America's twenty-nine 
stock exchanges. At the peak of the craze there were about a million 
active speculators, and out of an American population of 120 million 
about 29—30 million families had an active association with the 
market. 3 Churchill, despite his experience and world-wide contacts, 
was no better informed than the merest street-corner speculator. The 
American economy had ceased to expand in June. It took some time 
for the effects to work their way through but the bull market in 
stocks really came to an end on 3 September, a fortnight before 
Churchill wrote his joyful letter. The later rises were merely hiccups 
in a steady downward trend. The echoes of the Duke's shoot had 
scarcely died away when the precipitous descent began. On Monday 
21 October, for the first time, the ticker-tape could not keep pace 
with the news of falls and never caught up; in the confusion the panic 
intensified (the first margin-call telegrams had gone out the Saturday 
before) and speculators began to realize they might lose their savings 
and even their homes. On Thursday 24 October shares dropped 
vertically with no one buying, speculators were sold out as they 
failed to respond to margin calls, crowds gathered in Broad Street 
outside the New York Stock Exchange, and by the end of the day 
eleven men well known on Wall Street had committed suicide. One 
of the visitors in the gallery that day was Churchill himself, watching 
his faerie gold vanish. Next week came Black Tuesday, the 29th, and 
the first selling of sound stocks in order to raise desperately needed 
liquidity. 4 

Great stock-exchange crises, with their spectacular reversals of 
fortune and human dramas, make the dry bones of economic history 
live. But they do not help to illuminate causes and consequences of 
events; quite the contrary. They enormously increase the mythology 
which is such a potent element in economic explanation. The nature 
of 1920s prosperity; the reason why it ended; the cause of the Great 
Crash and the Great Depression which followed; and, not least, the 
manner and means whereby the industrial societies emerged from it - 


all these are still matters of intense argument. The conventional 
account is largely moralistic: hubris followed by nemesis, wicked 
greed by salutary retribution. It is easily adapted to Marxist determin- 
ism, which of course is a form of moral, not economic, analysis. It may 
make an edifying tale but it does not tell us what actually happened, let 
alone why. The interpretation provided by the followers of Keynes, 
which was the received opinion of the 1950s and 1960s, no longer 
carries conviction, for it appeared to be refuted by the catastrophic 
economic events of the 1970s and early 1980s, which placed the Great 
Depression in an entirely new perspective. Indeed, the two episodes 
can no longer be usefully studied separately and it is likely that future 
historians will analyse them in conjunction. But it is most improbable 
that an agreed explanation of either, or both, will ever be forthcoming. 
Economic history is too closely linked to current economic theory and 
practice to be a matter for easy consensus. What is offered here, then, 
is a possible account, which seeks to remove certain misconceptions. 
The first fallacy to be dispelled is that America pursued an 
isolationist foreign policy in the 1920s. That is not true. 5 While 
America's rulers would not formally underwrite the Versailles peace 
settlement, still less Keynes's proposal for an American government- 
sponsored aid programme for European recovery, they privately and 
unostentatiously accepted a degree of responsibility for keeping the 
world economy on an even keel. They agreed to share with Britain the 
business of providing a global currency in which world trade could be 
conducted, a burden carried by the City of London virtually alone up 
to 1914. They also took it upon themselves to promote, by informal 
commercial and financial diplomacy, the expansion of world trade. 6 
Unfortunately, the means employed were devious and ultimately 
dishonest. Except during the years 1857-61, America had always 
been a high-tariff nation: US tariffs, which had been imitated in 
continental Europe, were the chief refutation of its claim to conduct its 
affairs on true capitalist, laissez-faire principles. If Harding, Coolidge 
and Hoover had acted on the entrepreneurial principles they proudly 
proclaimed, they would have resumed Wilson's abortive policy of 
1913 of reducing US tariffs. In fact they did the opposite. The 
Fordney— MacCumber Tariff Act of 1922 and, still more, the Hawley- 
Smoot Act of 1930, which Hoover declined to veto, were devastating 
blows struck at world commerce, and so in the end at America's own. 7 
The fact is that America's presidents, and her congressional leader- 
ship, lacked the political courage to stand up to the National 
Association of Manufacturers, the American Federation of Labour 
and local pressures, and so pursue internationalism in the most 
effective way open to them and the one which conformed most closely 
to the economic views they claimed to hold. 


Instead, they sought to keep the world prosperous by deliberate 
inflation of the money supply. This was something made possible by 
the pre-war creation of the Federal Reserve Bank system, and which 
could be done secretly, without legislative enactment or control, and 
without the public knowing or caring. It did not involve printing 
money: the currency in circulation in the US was $3.68 billion at the 
beginning of the 1920s and $3.64 billion when the boom ended in 
1929. But the expansion of total money supply, in money substitutes 
or credit, was enormous: from $45.3 billion on 30 June 1921 to over 
$73 billion in July 1929, an increase of 61.8 per cent in eight years. 8 
The White House, the Treasury under Andrew Mellon, the Congress, 
the federal banks, and of course the private banks too, connived 
together to inflate credit. In its 1923 Annual Report, the Federal 
Reserve described the policy with frank crudity: The Federal Res- 
erve banks are . . . the source to which the member banks turn when 
the demands of the business community have outrun their own 
unaided resources. The Federal Reserve supplies the needed addi- 
tions to credit in times of business expansion and takes up the slack 
in times of business recession.' 9 This policy of continuous credit- 
inflation, a form of vulgar Keynesianism before Keynes had even 
formulated its sophisticated version, might have been justified if 
interest rates had been allowed to find their own level: that is, if 
manufacturers and farmers who borrowed money had paid interest 
at the rate savers were actually prepared to lend it. But again, the 
White House, the Treasury, the Congress and the banks worked in 
consort to keep discount and interest rates artificially low. Indeed it 
was the stated policy of the Federal Reserve not only to 'enlarge 
credit resources' but to do so 'at rates of interest low enough to 
stimulate, protect and prosper all kinds of legitimate business'. 10 

This deliberate interference in the supply and cost of money was 
used in the 1920s not merely to promote its original aim, the 
expansion of US business, but to pursue a supposedly benevolent 
international policy. While the government demanded the repayment 
of its war-loans, it actively assisted foreign governments and 
businesses to raise money in New York both by its own cheap money 
policy and by constant, active interference in the foreign bond 
market. The government made it quite clear that it favoured certain 
loans and not others. So the foreign loan policy was an adumbration, 
at the level of private enterprise, of the post- 1947 foreign aid 
programme. The aims were the same: to keep the international 
economy afloat, to support certain favoured regimes and, not least, 
to promote America's export industries. It was made, in effect, a 
condition of cabinet boosting of specific loans that part of them were 
spent in the USA. The foreign lending boom began in 1921, 


following a cabinet decision on 20 May 1921 and a meeting between 
Harding, Hoover and US investment bankers five days later, and it 
ended in late 1928, thus coinciding precisely with the expansion of 
the money supply which underlay the boom. America's rulers, in 
effect, rejected the rational laissez-faire choice of free trade and hard 
money and took the soft political option of protective tariffs and 
inflation. The domestic industries protected by the tariff, the export 
industries subsidized by the uneconomic loans and of course the 
investment bankers who floated the bonds all benefited. The losers 
were the population as a whole, who were denied the competitive 
prices produced by cheap imports, suffered from the resulting 
inflation, and were the universal victims of the ultimate 
degringolade. 11 

Moreover, by getting mixed up in the foreign loan business, the 
government forfeited much of its moral right to condemn stock- 
exchange speculation. Hoover, who was Commerce Secretary 
throughout the 1920s until he became President, regarded Wall 
Street as a deplorable casino - but he was the most assiduous 
promoter of the foreign bond market. Even bad loans, he argued, 
helped American exports and so provided employment. 12 Some of 
the foreign bond issues, however, were at least as scandalous as the 
worst stock-exchange transactions. Thus, in 1927, Victor Schoep- 
perle, Vice-President for Latin-American loans at National City 
Company (affiliated to National City Bank), reported on Peru: 'Bad 
debt record; adverse moral and political risk; bad internal debt 
situation; trade situation about as satisfactory as that of Chile in the 
past three years. National resources more varied. On economic 
showing Peru should go ahead rapidly in the next ten years.' 
Nevertheless National City floated a $15 million loan for Peru, 
followed shortly afterwards by a $50 million loan and a $25 million 
issue. Congressional investigation, in 1933—4, established that Juan 
Leguia, son of the president of Peru, had been paid $450,000 by 
National and its associates in connection with the loan. When his 
father was overthrown Peru defaulted. 13 This was one example 
among many. The basic unsoundness of much of the foreign loan 
market was one of the principal elements in the collapse of con- 
fidence and the spread of the recession to Europe. And the unsound- 
ness was the consequence not, indeed, of government laissez-faire 
but of the opposite: persistent government meddling. 

Interventionism by creating artificial, cheap credit was not an 
American invention. It was British. The British called it 'stabiliza- 
tion'. Although Britain was nominally a laissez-faire country up to 
1914, more so than America in some respects since it practised free 
trade, British economic philosophers were not happy with the 


business cycle, which they believed could be smoothed out by 
deliberate and combined efforts to achieve price stabilization. It must 
not be thought that Keynes came out of a clear non-interventionist 
sky: he was only a marginal 'advance' on the orthodox British seers. 
Since before the war Sir Ralph Hawtrey, in charge of financial 
studies at the Treasury, had argued that the central banks, by 
creating international credit (that is, inflation), could achieve a stable 
price level and so enormously improve on the nineteenth century's 
passive acceptance of the cycle, which he regarded as immoral. After 
1918, Hawtrey's views became the conventional wisdom in Britain 
and spread to America via Versailles. In the 1920 recession the Stable 
Money League (later the National Monetary Association) was 
founded, attracting the American financial establishment and, 
abroad, men like Emile Moreau, Governor of the Bank of France, 
Edouard Benes, Lord Melchett, creator of ici, Louis Rothschild, 
head of the Austrian branch, A.J.Balfour and such British econom- 
ists as A.C.Pigou, Otto Kahn, Sir Arthur Salter and Keynes 
himself. 14 

Keynes put the case for a 'managed currency' and a stabilized 
price-level in his Tract on Monetary Reform (1923). By then, 
stabilization was not merely accepted but practised. Hawtrey had 
inspired the stabilization resolutions of the Genoa Conference in 
1922; the Financial Committee of the League of Nations was 
stabilizationist; most of all, the Bank of England was stabilizationist. 
Montagu Norman, its governor, and his chief international adviser 
Sir Charles Addis, were both ardent apostles of the creed. Their 
principal disciple was Benjamin Strong, governor of the New York 
Federal Reserve Bank, who until his death in 1928 was all-powerful 
in the formation of American financial policy. Hoover called Strong, 
justly, 'a mental annex to Europe', and he was the effective agent in 
America's covert foreign policy of economic management. Indeed it 
is not too much to say that, for most of the 1920s, the international 
economic system was jointly supervised by Norman and Strong. 15 It 
was Strong who made it possible for Britain to return to the gold 
standard in 1925, by extending lines of credit from the New York 
Federal Reserve Bank and getting J.P.Morgan to do likewise: the 
London Banker wrote: 'no better friend of England exists'. Similar 
lines of credit were opened later to Belgium, Poland, Italy and other 
countries which met the Strong-Norman standards of financial 
rectitude. 16 

Of course the 'gold standard' was not a true one. That had gone 
for good in 1914. A customer could not go into the Bank of England 
and demand a gold sovereign in return for his pound note. It was the 
same in other European gold-standard countries. The correct term 


was 'gold bullion standard': the central banks held gold in large bars 
but ordinary people were not considered sufficiently responsible to 
handle gold themselves (although in theory Americans could demand 
gold dollars until 1933). Indeed, when a plan was produced in 1926 
to give India a real gold standard, Strong and Norman united to kill 
it, on the grounds that there would then be a disastrous world-wide 
gold-drain into Indian mattresses. In short, the 1920s gold-standard 
movement was not genuine laissez-faire at all but a 'not in-front-of- 
the-servants' laissez-faire. 17 It was a benevolent despotism run by a 
tiny elite of the Great and the Good, in secret. Strong regarded his 
credit-expansion and cheap money policy as an alternative to 
America backing the League, and he was pretty sure US public 
opinion would repudiate it if the facts were made public: that was 
why he insisted the periodic meetings of bankers should be strictly 
private. A financial policy which will not stand the scrutiny of the 
public is suspect in itself. It is doubly suspect if, while making gold 
the measure of value, it does not trust ordinary people - the ultimate 
judges of value - to apply that measurement themselves. Why did the 
bankers fear that ordinary men and women, if given the chance, 
would rush into gold — which brought no return at all - when they 
could invest in a healthy economy at a profit? There was something 
wrong here. The German banker Hjalmar Schacht repeatedly called 
for a true gold standard, as the only means to ensure that expansion 
was financed by genuine voluntary savings, instead of by bank credit 
determined by a tiny oligarchy of financial Jupiters. 18 

But the stabilizers carried all before them. Domestically and 
internationally they constantly pumped more credit into the system, 
and whenever the economy showed signs of flagging they increased 
the dose. The most notorious occasion was in July 1927, when 
Strong and Norman held a secret meeting of bankers at the Long 
Island estates of Ogden Mills, the US Treasury Under-Secretary, and 
Mrs Ruth Pratt, the Standard Oil heiress. Strong kept Washington in 
the dark and refused to let even his most senior colleagues attend. He 
and Norman decided on another burst of inflation and the protests 
of Schacht and of Charles Rist, Deputy-Governor of the Bank of 
France, were brushed aside. The New York Fed reduced its rate by a 
further half per cent to 3|; as Strong put it to Rist, 'I will give a little 
coup de whiskey to the stock-market' — and as a result set in motion 
the last culminating wave of speculation. Adolph Miller, a member 
of the Federal Reserve Board, subsequently described this decision in 
Senate testimony as 'the greatest and boldest operation ever under- 
taken by the Federal Reserve System [which] resulted in one of the 
most costly errors committed by it or any other banking system in 
the last seventy-five years.' 19 


The German objection, influenced by the monetarists of the Viennese 
school, L. von Mises and F.A.Hayek, was that the whole inflationary 
policy was corrupt. The French objection was that it reflected British 
foreign economic policy aims, with the Americans as willing abettors. 
As Moreau put it in his secret diary: 

England, having been the first European country to re-establish a stable and 
secure money, has used that advantage to establish a basis for putting Europe 
under a veritable financial domination . . . .The currencies will be divided into 
two classes. Those of the first class, the dollar and sterling, based on gold, and 
those of the second class based on the pound and the dollar - with part of their 
gold reserves being held by the Bank of England and the Federal Reserve of 
New York, the local currencies will have lost their independence. 20 

Moreau was making a general point that economic policies shaped for 
political purposes, as Anglo-American currency management un- 
doubtedly was, are unlikely to achieve economic objectives in the long 
run. That is unquestionably true, and it applies both in the domestic and 
the international field. At home, both in America and Britain, the object 
of stabilization was to keep prices steady and so prevent wages from 
dropping, which would mean social unrest; abroad, cheap money and 
easy loans kept trade flowing despite US protectionism and Britain's 
artificially strong pound. The aim was to avoid trouble and escape the 
need to resolve painful political dilemmas. 

The policy appeared to be succeeding. In the second half of the 
decade, the cheap credit Strong-Norman policy pumped into the world 
economy perked up trade, which had failed to reach its pre-war level. 
Whereas in 1921-5 the world-trade growth rate, compared with 
1911-14, was actually minus 1.42, during the four years 1926-9 it 
achieved a growth of 6.74, a performance not to be exceeded until the 
late 1950s. 21 Prices nevertheless remained stable: the Bureau of Labor 
Statistics Index of Wholesale Prices, taking 1926 as 100, shows that the 
fluctuation in the US was merely from 93.4 in June 1921 to a peak of 
104.5 in November 1925 and then down to 95.2 in June 1929. So the 
notion of deliberate controlled growth within a framework of price 
stability had been turned into reality. This was genuine economic 
management at last! Keynes described 'the successful management of 
the dollar by the Federal Reserve Board from 1923-8' as a 'triumph'. 
Hawtrey's verdict was: 'The American experiment in stabilization 
from 1 922 to 1 928 showed that early treatment could check a tendency 
either to inflation or to depression . . ..The American experiment was a 
great advance upon the practice of the nineteenth century.' 22 

Yet in fact the inflation was there, and growing, all the time. What no 
one seems to have appreciated is the significance of the phenomenal 
growth of productivity in the US between 1919 and 1929: output per 


worker in manufacturing industry rising by 43 per cent. This was 
made possible by a staggering increase in capital investment which 
rose by an average annual rate of 6.4 per cent a year. 23 The 
productivity increase should have been reflected in lower prices. The 
extent to which it was not reflected the degree of inflation produced 
by economic management with the object of stabilization. It is true 
that if prices had not been managed, wages would have fallen too. 
But the drop in prices must have been steeper; and therefore real 
wages - purchasing power - would have increased steadily, pari 
passu with productivity. The workers would have been able to enjoy 
more of the goods their improved performance was turning out of 
the factories. As it was, working-class families found it a struggle to 
keep up with the new prosperity. They could afford cars — just. But it 
was an effort to renew them. The Twenties boom was based 
essentially on the car. America was producing almost as many cars in 
the late 1920s as in the 1950s (5,358,000 in 1929; 5,700,000 in 
1953). The really big and absolutely genuine growth-stock of the 
1920s was General Motors: anyone who in 1921 had bought 
$25,000 of gm common stock was a millionaire by 1929, when gm 
was earning profits of $200 million a year. 24 The difficulty about an 
expansion in which cars are the leading sector is that, when money is 
short, a car's life can be arbitrarily prolonged five or ten years. 
In December 1 927 Coolidge and Hoover proudly claimed that average 
industrial wages had reached $4 a day, that is $1,200 a year. But 
their own government agencies estimated that it cost $2,000 a year 
to bring up a family of five in 'health and decency'. There is some 
evidence that the increasing number of women in employment 
reflected a decline in real incomes, especially among the middle 
class. 25 As the boom continued, and prices failed to fall, it became 
harder for the consumer to keep the boom going. The bankers, in 
turn, had to work harder to inflate the economy: Strong's 'little 
coup de whiskey' was the last big push; next year he was dead, 
leaving no one with either the same degree of monetary adventurism 
or the same authority. 

Strong's last push, in fact, did little to help the 'real' economy. It 
fed speculation. Very little of the new credit went through to the 
mass-consumer. As it was, the spending-side of the US economy was 
unbalanced. The 5 per cent of the population with the top incomes 
had one-third of all personal income: they did not buy Fords or 
Chevrolets. Indeed the proportion of income received in interest, 
dividends and rents, as opposed to wages, was about twice as high as 
post-1945 levels. 26 Strong's coup de whiskey benefited almost solely 
the non-wage earners: the last phase of the boom was largely 
speculative. Until 1928 stock-exchange prices had merely kept pace 


with actual industrial performance. From the beginning of 1928 the 
element of unreality, of fantasy indeed, began to grow. As Bagehot 
put it, 'All people are most credulous when they are most happy.' 27 
The number of shares changing hands, a record of 567,990,875 in 
1927, went to 920,550,032. 

Two new and sinister elements emerged: a vast increase in 
margin-trading and a rash of hastily cobbled-together investment 
trusts. Traditionally, stocks were valued at about ten times earnings. 
With high margin-trading, earnings on shares, only 1 or 2 per cent, 
were far less than the 8-12 per cent interest on loans used to buy 
them. This meant that any profits were in capital gains alone. Thus, 
Radio Corporation of America, which had never paid a dividend at 
all, went from 85 to 420 points in 1928. By 1929 some stocks were 
selling at fifty times earnings. As one expert put it, the market was 
'discounting not merely the future but the hereafter'. 28 A market- 
boom based on capital gains is merely a form of pyramid-selling. The 
new investment trusts, which by the end of 1928 were emerging at 
the rate of one a day, were archetypal inverted pyramids. They had 
what was called 'high leverage' through their own supposedly 
shrewd investments, and secured phenomenal growth on the basis of 
a very small plinth of real growth. Thus, the United Founders 
Corporation was built up into a company with nominal resources of 
$686,165,000 from an original investment (by a bankrupt) of a mere 
$500. The 1929 market value of another investment trust was over a 
billion dollars, but its chief asset was an electric company worth only 
$6 million in 1921. 29 They were supposed to enable the 'little man' 
to 'get a piece of the action'. In fact they merely provided an 
additional superstructure of almost pure speculation, and the 'high 
leverage' worked in reverse once the market broke. 

It is astonishing that, once margin-trading and investment-trusting 
took over, the Federal bankers failed to raise interest rates and 
persisted in cheap money. But many of the bankers had lost their 
sense of reality by the beginning of 1929. Indeed, they were 
speculating themselves, often in their own stock. One of the worst 
offenders was Charles Mitchell (finally indicted for grand larceny in 
1938), the Chairman of National City Bank, who, on 1 January 1929, 
became a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. 
Mitchell filled the role of Strong, at a cruder level, and kept the boom 
going through most of 1929. Of course many practices which 
contributed to the crash, and were made illegal by Congress and the 
new Securities and Exchange Commission in the 1930s, were re- 
garded as acceptable in 1929. The ferocious witch-hunt begun in 
1932 by the Senate Committee on Banking and the Currency, which 
served as a prototype for the witch-hunts of the 1940s and early 


1950s, actually disclosed little law-breaking. Mitchell was the only 
major victim and even his case revealed more of the social mores of 
high finance than actual wickedness. 30 Henry James would have had 
no complaints; but the Marxist zealots were disappointed. 'Every 
great crisis', Bagehot remarked, 'reveals the excessive speculations of 
many houses which no one before suspected.' 31 The 1929 crash 
exposed in addition the naivety and ignorance of bankers, business- 
men, Wall Street experts and academic economists high and low; it 
showed they did not understand the system they had been so 
confidently manipulating. They had tried to substitute their own 
well-meaning policies for what Adam Smith called 'the invisible 
hand' of the market and they had wrought disaster. Far from 
demonstrating, as Keynes and his school later argued - at the time 
Keynes failed to predict either the crash or the extent and duration of 
the Depression - the dangers of a self-regulating economy, the 
degringolade indicated the opposite: the risks of ill-informed 

The credit inflation petered out at the end of 1928. The economy 
went into decline, in consequence, six months later. The market 
collapse followed after a three-month delay. All this was to be 
expected; it was healthy; it ought to have been welcomed. It was the 
pattern of the nineteenth century and of the twentieth up to 1920-1: 
capitalist 'normalcy'. A business recession and a stock-exchange 
drop were not only customary but necessary parts of the cycle of 
growth: they sorted out the sheep from the goats, liquidated the 
unhealthy elements in the economy and turned out the parasites; as 
J.K.Galbraith was to put it: 'One of the uses of depression is to 
expose what the auditors fail to find.' 32 Business downturns serve 
essential purposes. They have to be sharp. But they need not be long 
because they are self-adjusting. All they require on the part of 
governments, the business community and the public is patience. The 
1920 recession had adjusted itself within a year. There was no reason 
why the 1929 recession should have taken longer, for the American 
economy was fundamentally sound, as Coolidge had said. As we 
have seen, the Stock Exchange fall began in September and became 
panic in October. On 13 November, at the end of the panic, the 
index was at 224, down from 452. There was nothing wrong in that. 
It had been only 245 in December 1928 after a year of steep rises. 
The panic merely knocked out the speculative element, leaving sound 
stocks at about their right value in relation to earnings. If the 
recession had been allowed to adjust itself, as it would have done by 
the end of 1930 on any earlier analogy, confidence would have 
returned and the world slump need never have occurred. Instead, the 
market went on down, slowly but inexorably, ceasing to reflect 


economic realities - its true function - and instead becoming an 
engine of doom, carrying to destruction the entire nation and, in its 
wake, the world. By 8 July 1932 New York Times industrials had 
fallen from 224 at the end of the panic to 58. US Steel, selling at 262 
before the market broke in 1929, was now only 22. gm, already one 
of the best-run and most successful manufacturing groups in the 
world, had fallen from 73 to 8. 33 By this time the entire outlook for 
the world had changed - infinitely for the worse. How did this 
happen? Why did the normal recovery not take place? 

To find the answer we must probe beneath the conventional view 
of Herbert Hoover and his successor as president, Franklin 
Roosevelt. The received view is that Hoover, because of his ideologi- 
cal attachment to laissez-faire, refused to use government money to 
reflate the economy and so prolonged and deepened the Depression 
until the election of Roosevelt, who then promptly reversed official 
policy, introducing the New Deal, a form of Keynesianism, and 
pulled America out of the trough. Hoover is presented as the symbol 
of the dead, discredited past, Roosevelt as the harbinger of the 
future, and 1932—3 the watershed between old-style free market 
economics and the benevolent new managed economics and social 
welfare of Keynes. Such a version of events began as the quasi- 
journalistic propaganda of Roosevelt's colleagues and admirers and 
was then constructed into a solid historical matrix by two entire 
generations of liberal-democrat historians. 34 

This most durable of historical myths has very little truth in it. The 
reality is much more complex and interesting. Hoover is one of the 
tragic figures of modern times. No one illustrated better Tacitus's 
verdict on Galba, omnium consensu capax imperii nisi imperasset 
(by general consent fit to rule, had he not ruled). As we have seen, the 
First World War introduced the age of social engineering. Some 
pundits wished to go further and install the engineer himself as king. 
Thorstein Veblen, the most influential progressive writer in America 
in the first quarter of the twentieth century, had argued, both in The 
Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) and The Engineers and the Price 
System (1921) that the engineer, whom he regarded as a disinterested 
and benevolent figure, should replace the businessman, eliminating 
both the values of the leisure class and the motives of profit, and run 
the economy in the interests of consumers. 35 In the Soviet Union, 
which has embraced social engineering more comprehensively and 
over a longer period than any other society, this is more or less what 
has happened, engineers becoming the paramount element in the 
ruling class (though not as yet with much advantage to the con- 

Hoover, born in 1874, not only believed in a kind of social 


engineering; he actually was an engineer. An orphan from a desper- 
ately poor Iowa farming background, his was a classical American 
success-story. He worked his way through Stanford University 
with an engineering degree and then, from 1900 to 1915, made $4 
million in mining all over the world. 36 Recruited to Wilson's 
war-team, he became its outstanding member, absorbed its philos- 
ophy of forceful government direction and planning, and then as 
head of America's post-war Commission of Relief (an adumbration 
of the later Marshall Aid and Point Four programmes) achieved a 
world-wide reputation for benevolent interventionism. Maxim 
Gorky wrote to him: 'You have saved from death 3,500,000 
children and 5,500,000 adults.' 37 In fact he used food diplomacy 
selectively, to defeat both Bela Kun's Communist regime in Hung- 
ary and a Habsburg come-back in Austria, while propping up the 
regimes the Anglo-Saxon powers favoured. 38 Keynes wrote of him 
as 'the only man who emerged from the ordeal of Paris with an 
enhanced reputation . . . [who] imported in the councils of Paris, 
when he took part in them, precisely that atmosphere of reality, 
knowledge, magnanimity and disinterestedness which, if they had 
been found in other quarters also, would have given us the Good 
Peace.' 39 Franklin Roosevelt, who as Navy Under-Secretary had 
also been in the wartime administration and shared Hoover's 
general outlook, wrote to a friend: 'He is certainly a wonder and I 
wish we could make him President of the United States. There could 
not be a better one.' 40 

As Secretary of Commerce for eight years, Hoover showed him- 
self a corporatist, an activist and an interventionist, running counter 
to the general thrust, or rather non-thrust, of the Harding— Coolidge 
administrations. His predecessor, Oscar Straus, told him he only 
needed to work two hours a day, 'putting the fish to bed at night 
and turning on the lights around the coast'. In fact his was the only 
department which increased its staff, from 13,005 to 15,850, and 
its cost, from $24.5 million to $37.6 million. 41 He came into office 
at the tail-end of the Depression and immediately set about forming 
committees and trade councils, sponsoring research programmes, 
pushing expenditure, persuading employers to keep up wages and 
'divided time' to increase jobs and, above all, forcing 'co-operation 
between the Federal, state and municipal governments to increase 
public works'. 42 Everywhere he formed committees and study- 
groups, sponsoring reports and working-parties, generating an at- 
mosphere of buzz and business. There was no aspect of public 
policy in which Hoover was not intensely active, usually personally: 
child-health, Indian policy, oil, conservation, public education, 
housing, social waste, agriculture - as President, he was his own 


Agriculture Secretary, and the 1929 Agricultural Marketing Act was 
entirely his work. 43 Harding did not like this hyperactivity, but was 
overwhelmed by Hoover's brains and prestige - 'The smartest gink I 
know'. 44 Coolidge hated it; but by then Hoover was too much part 
of the furniture of Republican government to be removed. 

Besides, Hoover's corporatism - the notion that the state, busi- 
ness, the unions and other Big Brothers should work together in 
gentle, but persistent and continuous manipulation to make life 
better — was the received wisdom of the day, among enlightened 
capitalists, left-wing Republicans and non-socialist intellectuals. 
Yankee-style corporatism was the American response to the new 
forms in Europe, especially Mussolini's fascism; it was as important 
to right-thinking people in the Twenties as Stalinism was in the 
Thirties. 45 Hoover was its outstanding impresario and ideologue. 
(One of his admirers was Jean Monnet, who later re-named the 
approach 'indicative planning' and made it the basis both for 
France's post-war planning system and for the European Economic 
Community.) Yet Hoover was not a statist. He said he was against 
any attempt 'to smuggle fascism into America through a back 
door'. 46 On many issues he was liberal. He wanted aid to flow to 
underdeveloped countries. He deplored the exclusion of Japanese 
from the 1924 immigration quotas. His wife entertained the ladies of 
black congressmen. He did not make anti-Semitic jokes, like Wood- 
row Wilson and his wife or Franklin Roosevelt. 47 To a very wide 
spectrum of educated American opinion, he was the leading Ameri- 
can public man long before he got to the White House. 

Hence the general belief that Hoover, as President, would be a 
miracle-worker. The Philadelphia Record called him 'easily the most 
commanding figure in the modern science of "engineering statesman- 
ship"'. The Boston Globe said the nation knew they had at the 
White House one who believed in 'the dynamics of mastery'. 48 He 
was 'the Great Engineer'. Hoover said he was worried by 'the 
exaggerated idea people have conceived of me. They have a convic- 
tion that I am a sort of superman, that no problem is beyond my 
capacity.' 49 But he was not really disturbed. He knew exactly what 
to do. He ran the administration like a dictator. He ignored or 
bullied Congress. He laid down the law, like a character from 
Dickens. He was fond of telling subordinates, 'When you know me 
better, you will find that when I say a thing is a fact, it is a fact.' 50 

When Hoover became President in March 1929 the mechanism 
which was to create the Depression was already in motion. The only 
useful action he might have taken was to allow the artificially low 
interest rates to rise to their natural level — a high one in the 
circumstances - which would have killed off the Stock Exchange 


boom much earlier and avoided the damaging drama of the 1929 
autumn. But he did not do so: government-induced cheap credit was 
the very bedrock of his policy. When the magnitude of the crisis 
became apparent, Andrew Mellon, the Treasury Secretary, at last 
repudiated his interventionist philosophy and returned to strict 
laissez-faire. He told Hoover that administration policy should be to 
'liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real 
estate' and so 'p ur g e the rottenness from the economy'. 51 It was the 
only sensible advice Hoover received throughout his presidency. By 
allowing the Depression to rip, unsound businesses would quickly 
have been bankrupted and the sound would have survived. Wages 
would have fallen to their natural level, and that for Hoover was the 
rub. He believed that high wages were an essential element in 
prosperity and that maintaining wages was the most important 
element in policy to contain and overcome depressions. 52 

From the very start, therefore, Hoover agreed to take on the 
business cycle and stamp on it with all the resources of government. 
'No president before has ever believed there was a government 
responsibility in such cases,' he wrote; ' . . . there we had to pioneer a 
new field.' 53 He resumed credit inflation, the Federal Reserve adding 
almost $300 million to credit in the last week of October 1929 alone. 
In November he held a series of conferences with industrial leaders in 
which he exacted from them solemn promises not to cut wages; even 
to increase them if possible - promises kept until 1932. The 
American Federation of Labor's journal lauded this policy: never 
before had US employers been marshalled to act together, and the 
decision marked an 'epoch in the march of civilization - high 
wages'. 54 Keynes, in a memo to Britain's Labour Prime Minister, 
Ramsay MacDonald, praised Hoover's record in maintaining 
wage-levels and thought the Federal credit-expansion move 
'thoroughly satisfactory'. 55 

Indeed in all essentials, Hoover's actions embodied what would 
later be called a 'Keynesian' policy. He cut taxes heavily. Those of a 
family man with an income of $4,000 went down by two-thirds. 56 
He pushed up government spending, deliberately running up a huge 
government deficit of $2.2 billion in 1931, so that the government 
share of the Gross National Product went up from 16.4 per cent in 
1930 to 21.5 per cent in 1931. This increase in government spending, 
by far the largest in US history in peacetime, reaching $1.3 billion in 
1931, was largely accounted for ($1 billion) by a rise in transfer 
payments. 57 It is true that Hoover ruled out direct relief and 
wherever possible he channelled government money through the 
banks rather than direct to businesses and individuals. But that he 
sought to use government cash to reflate the economy is beyond 


question. Coolidge's advice to angry farmers' delegations had been a 
bleak: Take up religion.' Hoover's new Agricultural Marketing Act 
gave them $500 million of Federal money, increased by a further $100 
million early in 1930. In 1931 he extended this to the economy as a 
whole with his Reconstruction Finance Corporation (rfc), as part of a 
nine-point programme of government intervention which he produced 
in December. More major public works were started in Hoover's four 
years than in the previous thirty, including the San Francisco Bay 
Bridge, the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the Hoover Dam; the project for 
a St Lawrence Seaway was a casualty of Congressional, not White 
House, action. In July 1932 the rfc's capital was almost doubled to 
$3.8 billion and the new Emergency Relief and Construction Act 
extended its positive role: in 1932 alone it gave credits of $2.3 billion 
and $1.6 billion in cash. Alas, as there was then unanimous agreement 
that the budget had to be brought back into balance after two years of 
deficit, the 1932 Revenue Act saw the greatest taxation increase in US 
history in peacetime, with the rate on high incomes jumping from a 
quarter to 63 per cent. This made nonsense of Hoover's earlier tax cuts 
but by now Hoover had lost control of Congress and was not in a 
position to pursue a coherent fiscal policy. 

Hoover's interventionism was accompanied by an incessant activist 
rhetoric. He was perhaps the first of what was to become a great army of 
democratic statesmen to use military metaphors in a context of positive 
economic policy: 'The battle to set our economic machine in motion in 
this emergency takes new forms and requires new tactics from time to 
time. We used such emergency powers to win the war; we can use them 
to fight the Depression . . .' (May 1932). 'If there shall be no retreat, if 
the attack shall continue as it is now organized, then this battle is won 
. . .' (August 1932). 'We might have done nothing. That would have 
been utter ruin. Instead we met the situation with proposals to private 
business and to Congress of the most gigantic programme of economic 
defence and counter-attack ever evolved in the history of the 
Republic .... For the first time in the history of depression, dividends, 
profits and the cost of living have been reduced before wages have 

suffered They were maintained until . . . the profits had practically 

vanished. They are now the highest real wages in the world Some of 

the reactionary economists urged that we should allow the liquidation 
to take its course until we had found bottom .... We determined that 
we would not follow the advice of the bitter-end liquidationists and see 
the whole body of debtors of the US brought to bankruptcy and the 
savings of our people brought to destruction . . .' (October 1932). 58 

Hoover, the active engineer, thought in terms of tools and weapons. 
Tools and weapons are meant to be used. He used them. His incessant 
attacks on the stock exchanges, which he hated as parasitical, and his 


demands that they be investigated pushed stocks down still further 
and discouraged private investors. His policy of public investment 
prevented necessary liquidations. The businesses he hoped thus to 
save either went bankrupt in the end, after fearful agonies, or were 
burdened throughout the 1930s by a crushing load of debt. Hoover 
undermined property rights by weakening the bankruptcy laws and 
encouraging states to halt action-sales for debt, ban foreclosures or 
impose debt moratoria. This, in itself, impeded the ability of the 
banks to save themselves and maintain confidence. Hoover delib- 
erately pushed federal credits into the banks and bullied them into 
inflating, thus increasing the precariousness of their position. 

The final crisis came when America's protectionist policy boom- 
eranged. The atrocious Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930, which sharply 
increased import-duties, more than any other positive act of policy, 
spread the Depression to Europe. In the summer of 1931 the collapse 
of Austria's leading bank, the Credit Anstalt, pushed over a whole 
row of European dominoes (Britain had already abandoned the gold 
standard on 21 September 1930) and a series of debt-repudiations 
ensued. What remained of America's exports to Europe vanished, 
and her policy of foreign loans as a substitute for free trade 
collapsed. Foreigners lost confidence in the dollar and since the USA 
was still on the gold standard began to pull out their gold, a habit 
that spread to American customers. In a 'normal' year about 700 
US banks failed. In 1931-2 there were 5,096 failures, with deposits 
totalling well over $3 billion, and the process culminated early in 
1933 when the US banking system came to a virtual standstill in the 
last weeks of the Hoover presidency, adding what appeared to be 
the coping-stone to the President's monument of failure. 59 

By that time Hoover's interventionism had prolonged the Depres- 
sion into its fourth year. The cumulative banking crisis had, in all 
probability, the deflationary effect which Hoover had struggled so 
hard and so foolishly to prevent, so that by the end of 1932 the very 
worst of the Depression was over. But the cataclysmic depth to 
which the economy had sunk in the meantime meant that recovery 
would be slow and feeble. The damage was enormous, though it was 
patchy and often contradictory. Industrial production, which had 
been 1 14 in August 1929, was 54 by March 1933. Business construc- 
tion, which had totalled $8.7 billion in 1929, fell to a mere $1.4 
billion in 1933. There was a 77 per cent decline in durable 
manufactures over the same period. Thanks to Hoover, average real 
wages actually increased during the Depression; the victims, of 
course, were those who had no wages at all. 60 Unemployment, which 
had been only 3.2 per cent of the labour force in 1929, rose to 24.9 
per cent in 1933 and 26.7 per cent in 1934. 61 At one point it was 


estimated that (excluding farm families) some 34 million men, 
women and children were without any income at all - 28 per cent of 
the population. 62 Landlords could not collect rents and so could not 
pay taxes; city revenues collapsed, bringing down the relief system 
(such as it was) and services. Chicago owed its teachers $20 million. 
In some areas schools closed down most of the year. In New York in 
1932, more than 300,000 children could not be taught because there 
were no funds, and among those still attending the Health Depart- 
ment reported 20 per cent malnutrition. 63 By 1933 the US Office of 
Education estimated that 1,500 higher education colleges had gone 
bankrupt or shut and university enrolments fell by a quarter- 
million. 64 Few bought books. None of the public libraries in Chicago 
could buy a single new book for twelve months. Total book sales fell 
50 per cent and Little, Brown of Boston reported 1932-3 as the 
worst year since they began publishing in 1837. 65 John Steinbeck 
complained: 'When people are broke, the first things they give up are 
books.' 66 

Intellectuals bitterly resented their own plight and the misery all 
around which it reflected. But they reacted in different ways. Some 
just reported what they saw. In one of the best of the Depression 
articles, 'New York in the Third Winter', James Thurber noted the 
contrasts and the ironies. Of the eighty-six legitimate theatres in the 
city, only twenty-eight had shows running: but O'Neill's Mourning 
Becomes Electra had sold out even its $6 seats. About 1,600 of the 
20,000 taxis had 'dropped out'; but the rest were much smarter and 
cleaner as a result of intensified competition. Both the Ritz and the 
Pierre had cut their lowest room rates to a humiliating $6; but the 
new Waldorf, charging the same as before, was packed. The new 
Empire State, the last product of the great Twenties building boom, 
had only rented a third of its rooms: 'Many floors were not finished 
at all, merely big plastery spaces'; but 550,000 people had already 
paid a dollar to go up to the top. The big transatlantic liners were 
cutting their suite prices by a third; but 'whoopee cruises' beyond the 
twelve-mile-limit-ban on gambling were a roaring success. So was 
bridge, with Ely Culbertson selling 400,000 books a year and the 
industry racking up a turnover of $100 million, and the new 
striptease shows, with dancers earning $475 a week. Above all, he 
reported bargains in the big stores, which slashed their prices and 
kept up business accordingly. Indeed, it is a significant fact that the 
retail trade, reacting directly to market conditions, was the least 
depressed sector of the economy; industry, trapped by Hoover's iron 
law of high wages, was sandbagged. 67 Thurber's reporting stressed 
that for anyone who could actually make or earn money, Depressions 
were the best of times. 


Most intellectuals moved sharply to the Left, or rather into politics 
for the first time, presenting their newly discovered country in crude, 
ideological colours. Thomas Wolfe, the baroque writing phenome- 
non of the Thirties, described the public lavatories outside New 
York's City Hall, where an astonishing proportion of America's two 
million derelicts congregated: 

. . . drawn into a common stew of rest and warmth and a little surcease 
from their desperation .... The sight was revolting, disgusting, enough to 
render a man forever speechless with very pity. [Nearby were] the giant 
hackles of Manhattan shining coldly in the cruel brightness of the winter 
night. The Woolworth building was not fifty yards away, and a little further 
down were the silvery spires and needles of Wall Street, great fortresses of 
stone and steel that housed enormous banks ... in the cold moonlight, only 
a few blocks away from this abyss of human wretchedness and misery, 
blazed the pinnacles of power where a large section of the world's entire 
wealth was locked in mighty vaults. 68 

Edmund Wilson, whose Depression articles were collected as The 
American Jitters (1932), eschewed the rhetoric but powerfully re- 
flected the growing anti-enterprise sentiment which was overwhelm- 
ing the country. Books might not be bought but more people were 
reading serious ones than ever before. He recognized shrewdly that a 
good time - or rather an influential time - for intellectuals had 
come: especially for the younger ones 'who had grown up in the Big 
Business era and had always resented its barbarism, its crowding-out 
of everything they cared about'. For them, 'these years were not 
depressing but stimulating. One couldn't help being exhilarated at 
the sudden, unexpected collapse of the stupid gigantic fraud. It gave 
us a new sense of freedom; and it gave us a new sense of power.' 69 

For it is a curious fact that writers, the least organized in their own 
lives, instinctively support planning in the public realm. And at the 
beginning of the Thirties planning became the new Weltanschauung. 
In 1932 it dominated the booklists: Stuart Chase, so embarrassingly 
wrong about the 'continuing boom' in October 1929, now published 
A New Deal, its title as timely as Bruck's The Third Reich. George 
Soule demanded Hooveresque works-programmes in A Planned 
Society. Corporatist planning reached its apotheosis in Adolf Berle's 
and Gardiner Means's Modern Corporation and Private Property, 
which went through twenty impressions as the Depression climaxed 
and predicted that the 'law of corporations' would be the 'potential 
constitutional law' for the new economic state. 

Everyone wanted planning. America's most widely read historian, 
Charles Beard, advocated 'A Five Year Plan for America'. 70 Business- 
men like Gerard Swope, head of General Electric, produced their 


own. Henry Harriman, Chairman of the New England Power 
Company, declared, 'We have left the period of extreme individual- 
ism .... Business prosperity and employment will be best maintained 
by an intelligent planned business structure.' Capitalists whp dis- 
agreed would be 'treated like any maverick . . . roped and branded 
and made to run with the herd'. Charles Abbott of the American 
Institute of Steel Construction declared the country could no longer 
afford 'irresponsible, ill-informed, stubborn and non-co-operative 
individualism'. Business Week, under the sneering title 'Do You Still 
Believe in Lazy-Fairies?', asked: 'To plan or not to plan is no longer 
the question. The real question is: who is to do it?' 71 

Who, in logic and justice, but the Great Engineer, the Wonder 
Boy? Had not, in logic and justice, his time come at last? But there is 
no logic or justice in history. It is all a matter of chronology. 
Hoover's time had come and gone. He had been in power four years, 
frantically acting and planning, and what was the result? By 1932 his 
advisers were telling him to 'keep off the front page' as his public acts 
were discrediting the notion that the government could intervene 
effectively. 72 He had warned himself in 1929 that 'If some unprece- 
dented calamity should come upon this nation I would be sacrificed to 
the unreasoning disappointment of a people who had expected too 
much.' That fear — confidently dismissed at the time — proved 
abundantly justified. In 1907 Theodore Roosevelt had remarked that 
'when the average man loses his money, he is simply like a wounded 
snake and strikes right and left at anything, innocent or the reverse, 
that represents itself as conspicuous in his mind'. 73 That maxim, too, 
was now resoundingly confirmed, with Hoover as its helpless victim, 
a transfixed rabbit in a boiled shirt. He had always been a dour man; 
now, imperceptibly, he became the Great Depressive. The ablest of 
his cabinet colleagues, Henry Stimson, said he avoided the White 
House to escape 'the ever-present feeling of gloom that pervades 
everything connected with this Administration'. He added: 'I don't 
remember there has ever been a joke cracked in a single meeting of 
the last year and a half.' As his party and cabinet colleagues 
distanced themselves from this voodoo-figure, Hoover began to keep 
an 'enemies list' of the disloyal. 74 Calling on the beleaguered man, 
H.G.Wells found him 'sickly, overworked and overwhelmed'. 75 

And as usually happens on these occasions, sheer luck deserts the 
ruined cause and becomes the source of further myth. In 1924 a 
Bonus bill had provided army veterans with service certificates and 
the right to borrow 22£ per cent of their matured value. In 1931, over 
Hoover's veto, Congress raised that to 50 per cent. Some of the 
veterans were not content and the Left, reviving for the first time 
since 1919, organized a 'Bonus expeditionary force' of 20,000 


veterans which set up a shanty-town 'camp' in the middle of 
Washington in 1932. But Congress refused to budge further and on 
28 July Hoover, whose policy on the issue was identical to 
Roosevelt's when the issue was revived in 1936, ordered the camp to 
be dispersed. The police proving inadequate, some troops were used 
under Major (later General) Patton of the US Cavalry. Both General 
MacArthur, then Army Chief of Staff, and his aide Major Eisen- 
hower played minor roles in the messy operation that followed. 

No episode in American history has been the basis for more 
falsehood, much of it deliberate. The Communists did not play a 
leading role in setting up the camp but they organized the subsequent 
propaganda with great skill. There were tales of cavalry charges; of 
the use of tanks and poison gas; of a little boy bayonetted while 
trying to save his rabbit; and of tents and shelters being set on fire 
with people trapped inside. These were published in such works as 
W.W.Walters: BEF: the Whole Story of the Bonus Army (1933) and 
Jack Douglas: Veteran on the March (1934), both almost entirely 
fiction. A book of Ballads of the BEF appeared, including such 
choice items as 'The Hoover Diet Is Gas' and 'I have seen the sabres 
gleaming as they lopped off veterans' ears'. A characteristic Com- 
munist tract of 1940 by Bruce Minton and John Stuart, The Fat 
Years and the Lean, concluded: 'The veterans began to leave the 
capital. But President Hoover would not let them disband peace- 
fully .... Without warning he ordered the army forcibly to eject the 
bef from Washington. The soldiers charged with fixed bayonets, 
firing into the crowd of unarmed men, women and children.' While 
the camp was burning, it was said, Hoover and his wife, who kept 
the best table in White House history, dined alone in full evening 
dress off a seven-course meal. Some of the fictions were still being 
repeated in respectable works of history even in the 1970s. 76 

What mattered more at the time was the Administration's inept 
handling of the subsequent investigation, leading to a violent and 
public disagreement between the Attorney-General and the Superin- 
tendant of the Washington police, which took place in the closing 
stages of the election campaign. Hoover, loyally supporting his 
cabinet colleague, was made to look a liar and a monster: 'There was 
no question that the President was hopelessly defeated,' wrote one of 
his staff. 77 Not only was his credibility impugned, but the episode 
lost him the support of many of the churches, who had hitherto 
opposed the 'Wet' Roosevelt, Prohibition being the other big issue - 
perhaps, for most voters, the biggest issue - of the campaign. 

Thus a combination of myth and alcohol, plus his own sense and 
image of failure, swept the Wonder Boy into oblivion in a watershed 
election. Reversing the huge Republican margins of the 1920s, 


Roosevelt scored 22,833,000 votes to Hoover's 15,762,000, with an 
electoral college majority of 472 to 59, carrying all but six states. The 
new voting pattern of 1932 saw the emergence of the Democratic 
'coalition of minorities', based on the industrial north-east, which 
was to last for nearly half a century and turn Congress almost into a 
one-party legislature. The pattern had been foreshadowed by the 
strong showing of Al Smith, the Democratic candidate, in the 1928 
presidential and, still more, in the 1930 mid-term congressional 
elections. But it was only in 1932 that the Republicans finally lost the 
progressive image they had enjoyed since Lincoln's day and saw it 
triumphantly seized by their enemies, with all that such a transfer 
involves in the support of the media, the approval of academia, the 
patronage of the intelligentsia and, not least, the manufacture of 
historical orthodoxy. 

Paradoxically, on what is now seen as the central issue of how to 
extricate America from Depression, there was virtually no real 
difference - as yet - between the parties. Both Hoover and Roosevelt 
were interventionists. Both were planners of a sort. Both were 
inflationists. It is true that Roosevelt was inclined to favour some 
direct relief, which Hoover still distrusted; on the other hand he was 
(at this stage) even more insistent than Hoover on the contradictory 
need for a strictly balanced budget. The actual Democratic campaign 
platform was strictly orthodox. Roosevelt himself was seen as an 
unstable lightweight in economic matters. Indeed he appeared a 
lightweight generally compared to his fifth cousin, Theodore. He was 
an aristocrat, the only child of a Hudson River squire, descended 
from seventeenth-century Dutch and the 'best' Anglo-Saxon stock; 
the proud owner of the magnificient Hyde Park estate half-way 
between New York and the state capital, Albany. He had been 
educated by governesses to the age of fourteen; then at Groton, the 
American Eton, where he acquired a slight English accent and 
learned Latin, Greek and European history. He had four years at 
Harvard, 'on the Gold Coast' (high-priced dormitories and clubs), 
developing an outlook which was, says his best biographer, 'a 
mixture of political conservatism, economic orthodoxy and anti- 
imperialism, steeped in a fuzzy altruism and wide ignorance' - a 
brew from which he was never wholly weaned. 78 

By 1932 Roosevelt was an experienced administrator, with over 
seven years in the Navy Department behind him and a moderately 
successful governorship of New York. But no one regarded him as a 
Wonder Boy. At the beginning of 1932 Lippmann described him as 'a 
highly impressionable person without a firm grasp of public affairs 
and without very strong convictions . . . not the dangerous enemy of 
anything. He is too eager to please ... no crusader ... no tribune of 


the people ... no enemy of entrenched privilege. He is a pleasant 
man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would 
very much like to be President.' 79 Time called him 'a vigorous, 
well-intentioned gentleman of good birth and breeding'. 

In no sense was Roosevelt the cynosure of the left-wing intelligent- 
sia. Common Sense, one of their favourite journals, thought the 
election a non-choice between 'the laughing boy from Hyde Park' 
and 'the great glum engineer from Palo Alto'. Theodore Dreiser, 
Sherwood Anderson, Erskine Caldwell, Edmund Wilson, John Dos 
Passos, Lincoln Steffens, Malcolm Cowley, Sidney Hook, Clifton 
Fadiman and Upton Sinclair backed the Communist candidate 
William Z. Foster. They signed a joint letter insisting that 'It is 
capitalism which is destructive of all culture and Communism which 
desires to save civilization and its cultural heritage from the abyss to 
which the world crisis is driving it.' Other intellectuals such as 
Reinhold Neibuhr, Stuart Chase, Van Wyck Brooks, Alexander 
Woolcott, Edna St Vincent Millay and Paul Douglas voted for the 
Socialist, Norman Thomas. 80 Even after Roosevelt was well esta- 
blished in the White House, some of them continued to note a lack of 
specific gravity which he never wholly lost. 'Washington seems much 
more intelligent and cheerful than under any recent administration,' 
Edmund Wilson wrote, 'but as one lady said to me, it is "pure 
Chekhov". Where the Ohio Gang played poker, the brain trustees 
get together and talk. Nothing really makes much sense, because 
Roosevelt has no real policy.' 81 

There was an element of truth in the remark. Indeed, it was 
essentially Hoover's campaign rhetoric which opened an ideological 
gap between the men. Hoover had never reciprocated Roosevelt's 
admiration, and thought him a frivolous fellow who might easily 
become a dangerous one. During the campaign, feeling he was 
losing, he worked himself up into a fine froth about minor differ- 
ences on direct relief (which Roosevelt had practised in New York) 
and proposed meddling in public utilities. 'My countrymen,' he 
roared, 'the proposals of our opponents represent a profound change 
in American life ... a radical departure from the foundations of 150 
years which have made this the greatest nation in the world. This 
election is not a mere shift from the ins to the outs. It means deciding 
the direction our nation will take over a century to come.' 'This 
campaign', he warned, 'is more than a contest between the two men. 
It is more than a contest between the two parties. It is a contest 
between two philosophies of government.' 82 Roosevelt, delighted to 
see some spice attributed to a programme which the New York 
Times found contained 'not one wild nostrum or disturbing proposal 
in the whole list' and which the New Republic dismissed as 'a puny 


answer to the challenge of the times', took the same bellicose line: 
'Never before in modern history have the essential differences 
between the two major American parties stood out in such striking 
contrast as they do today.' 83 It was all baloney. It illustrates the 
degree to which oratory engenders myths and myths, in turn, breed 

And not only oratory: personalities, too. Hoover, who had made 
his money by honest toil, and grown dour in the process, first 
despised, then hated the grinning and meretricious Whig who had 
simply inherited his wealth and then used it as a platform to attack 
the industrious. He had been incensed by a Roosevelt remark in 
1928, which he never forgot, that he was 'surrounded by material- 
istic and self-seeking advisers'. 84 Roosevelt acquired a grievance in 
turn. He had been crippled by poliomyelitis since the early 1920s, 
and, at a White House reception for governors in spring 1932, had 
been kept waiting by Hoover for half an hour. He had refused to ask 
for a chair, seeing the incident as a trial of strength and believing — it 
is astonishing how paranoid politicians can become in election year — 
that Hoover had planned it deliberately. As it happened, Roosevelt's 
successful struggle over his disability was the one aspect of his 
character Hoover admired; it is inconceivable that he could have 
sought to take advantage of it. 85 But Roosevelt and his wife 
remembered the half-hour with hatred. 

The mutual antipathy proved of great historical importance. 
Roosevelt seems to have been quite unaware that Hoover genuinely 
regarded him as a public menace; not taking politics too seriously 
himself, he dismissed Hoover's Cassandra-cries as partisan verbiage, 
the sort he might employ himself. There was then a huge hiatus 
between the election and the transfer of power, from early November 
to March. Both men agreed action was urgent; except on details, 
they agreed what it should be - more of the same. Roosevelt 
conceived the fantastic notion that Hoover ought to appoint him 
Secretary of State immediately, so that he and his vice-president 
could both resign and Roosevelt could constitutionally move into the 
White House immediately. Hoover, equally optimistically, thought 
Roosevelt should be persuaded to disavow some of his campaign 
remarks and promises, which he thought had made a bad situation 
still worse, and humbly endorse, in public, measures which the 
President proposed to take, thus restoring confidence and ensuring 
continuity of (Hoover's) policy. Granted these ludicrous misap- 
prehensions, it is not surprising that their contacts over the long 
interregnum were confined to icy epistles and a mere courtesy call by 
Roosevelt on 3 March 1933, the eve of the transfer. It terminated in 
an arctic exchange which would have warmed Henry James's heart. 


When Roosevelt, who was staying at the Mayflower, said Hoover 
was obviously too busy to return his call, the stricken Jupiter 
unleashed his last thunderbolt: 'Mr Roosevelt, when you have been 
in Washington as long as I have, you will learn that the President of 
the United States calls on nobody.' 86 Roosevelt took his revenge by 
refusing to give the departing President, whose life was under 
constant threat, a Secret Service bodyguard to accompany him back 
to Palo Alto. 87 

The public lack of co-operation between the two men during the 
long interregnum worked decisively in Roosevelt's political favour 
by drawing a profound, if wholly false, distinction between the two 
regimes. Roosevelt was a new face at exactly the right time and it was 
a smiling face. Hence he got all the credit when the recovery, under 
way during Hoover's last semester, became visible in the spring in the 
form of what was promptly dubbed 'the Roosevelt Market'. The 
historian hates to admit it, but luck is very important. Hoover had 
asked Rudy Vallee in 1932 for an anti-Depression song; the wretched 
fellow produced 'Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?' Roosevelt's 
campaign song, actually written for mgm's Chasing Rainbows on 
the eve of the great stock market crash, struck just the right button: 
'Happy Days Are Here Again'. He had a lot of the intuitive skills of 
Lloyd George, a politician he greatly resembled. He could coin a 
phrase, or get others to coin one for him, as his Inaugural showed 
('Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is 
fear itself'). 88 At the end of his first week in office he showed his 
mastery of the new radio medium by inaugurating his 'fireside chats'. 
In terms of political show-business he had few equals and he had an 
enviable knack of turning problems into solutions. Thus, faced with 
shut banks, he declared them shut by law (using an old 1917 Act) 
and termed it 'A bankers' holiday'. But he also had the solid 
advantage of an overwhelmingly Democrat and unusually subser- 
vient Congress. His first bill, the Emergency Banking Act, went 
through in less than a day, after a mere forty-minute debate 
interrupted by cries of 'Vote, vote!' From midnight on 6 April, after a 
mere month in office, he had America drinking legal liquor again, an 
immense boost to morale. His programme was rushed through 
Congress in record time but it was political showbiz which chris- 
tened it 'the Hundred Days'. 

Beyond generating the impression of furious movement, what his 
Treasury Secretary, William Woodin, called 'swift and staccato 
action', there was no actual economic policy behind the 
programme. 89 Raymond Moley, the intellectual who helped 
Roosevelt pick his cabinet, said future historians might find some 
principle behind the selection, but he could not. 90 This lack of real 


design was reflected in the measures. At Roosevelt's exciting press 
conferences, he boasted he played things by ear and compared himself 
to a quarter-back who 'called a new play when he saw how the last one 
had turned out'. 91 While increasing federal spending in some direc- 
tions he slashed it in others, cutting the pensions of totally disabled 
war-veterans, for instance, from $40 to $20 a month, and putting 
pressure on states to slash teachers' salaries, which he said were 'too 
high'. He remained devoted to the idea of a balanced budget; his first 
message to Congress called for major cuts in expenditure and one of 
his first bills was a balanced-budget measure entitled 'To Maintain the 
Credit of the United States Government'. So far from being a 
proto-Keynesian, nothing made him more angry than journalistic 
suggestions that his finance was unsound. 92 The notion that Roosevelt 
was the first deliberately to practise deficit finance to reflate an 
economy is false. Keynes indeed urged this course on him in a famous 
letter to the New York Times at the end of 1933: 'I lay overwhelming 
emphasis on the increase of national purchasing power resulting from 
government expenditure financed by loans.' 93 But that was not 
actually Roosevelt's policy except by accident. When the two men met 
the following summer they did not hit it off, and there is no evidence, 
from start to finish, that Roosevelt ever read Keynes's writings — 
'During all the time I was associated with him', Moley wrote, 'I never 
knew him read a serious book' — or was in the slightest influenced by 
Keynes's ideas. 94 The Federal Reserve Bank was certainly inflationary 
under Roosevelt; but then it had been throughout the previous decade. 
Roosevelt's legislation, for the most part, extended or tinkered with 
Hoover policies. The Emergency Banking Act and the Loans to 
Industry Act of June 1934 extended Hoover's RFC. The Home 
Owners' Loan Act (1932) extended a similar act of the year before. 
The Sale of Securities Act (1933), the Banking Acts (1933, 1935) and 
the Securities and Exchange Act (1934) merely continued Hoover's 
attempts to reform business methods. The National Labour Relations 
Act of 1935 (the 'Wagner Act'), which made it easier to organize 
unions and won the Democrats organized labour for a generation, 
simply broadened and strengthened the Norris-La Guardia Act 
passed under Hoover. The First Agricultural Adjustment Act (1933) 
actually undermined the reflationary aspects of government policy, 
curtailed the production of foodstuffs and paid farmers to take land 
out of production. It was, moreover, in flat contradiction to other 
government measures to counter the drought and dust-storms of 
1934—5, such as the Soil Erosion Service, the Soil Erosion Act (1935) 
and the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act (1936). 95 
Roosevelt's agricultural policy, in so far as he had one, was statist, 
designed to win votes by raising farming incomes. But it also raised 


food-prices for the consumer and so delayed general recovery. The 
National Industrial Recovery Act (1933), which created a corporatist 
agency under General Hugh Johnson, was in essence a Hoover-type 
shot at 'indicative planning'. But, drawing on Roosevelt's Great War 
experience - the sole source of such novel ideas as he had - it had a 
flavour of compulsion about it, Johnson warning that if businessmen 
refused to sign his 'voluntary' codes, 'They'll get a sock right on the 
nose.' It was this which led Hoover to denounce it as 'totalitarian'. 96 
Johnson's bullying made the scheme counterproductive and there 
was not much real regret when the Supreme Court declared it 
unconstitutional. 97 

Where Roosevelt really departed from Hooverism was in reviving 
and extending a Wilson Great War scheme for the state to provide 
cheap power for the Tennessee Valley. But this was an isolated item 
of improvization, a 'boondoggle' to keep the South solid. Asked how 
he would explain its philosophy to Congress, Roosevelt replied, 
characteristically, 'I'll tell them it's neither fish nor fowl but, 
whatever it is, it will taste awfully good to the people of the 
Tennessee Valley.' 98 Roosevelt also spent a great deal of money on 
public works: $10.5 billion, plus $2.7 billion on sponsored projects, 
employing at one time or another 8.5 million people and construct- 
ing 122,000 public buildings, 77,000 new bridges, 285 airports, 
664,000 miles of roads, 24,000 miles of storm and water-sewers, 
plus parks, playgrounds and reservoirs. 99 But this again was an old 
Hoover policy on a somewhat larger scale. In all essentials, the New 
Deal continued the innovatory corporatism of Hoover. It was what 
Walter Lippmann, writing in 1935, termed 'the Permanent New 
Deal'. 'The policy initiated by President Hoover in the autumn of 
1929 was something utterly unprecedented in American history,' he 
wrote. 'The national government undertook to make the whole 
economic order operate prosperously ... the Roosevelt measures are 
a continuous evolution of the Hoover measures.' 100 

Hoover-Roosevelt interventionism was thus a continuum. Did it 
work? Pro-Roosevelt historians argue that the additional elements of 
the New Deal brought recovery. Pro-Hoover historians counter that 
Roosevelt's acts delayed what Hoover's were already bringing 
about. 101 From the perspective of the 1980s it seems probable that 
both men impeded a natural recovery brought about by deflation. It 
was certainly slow and feeble. 1937 was the only reasonably good 
year, when unemployment, at 14.3 per cent, actually dipped below 8 
million; but by the end of the year the economy was in free fall again 
— the fastest fall so far recorded — and unemployment was at 19 per 
cent the following year. In 1937 production briefly passed 1929 
levels but quickly slipped again. The real recovery to the boom 


atmosphere of the 1920s came only on the Monday after the Labor 
Day weekend of September 1939, when the news of war in Europe 
plunged the New York Stock Exchange into a joyful confusion which 
finally wiped out the memory of October 1929. Two years later the 
dollar value of production finally passed 1929 levels. 102 Keynes 
himself, addressing Americans in 1940, conceded that the war was 
crucial to economic recovery: 'Your war preparations, so far from 
requiring a sacrifice, will be a stimulus, which neither the victory nor 
the defeat of the New Deal could give you, to greater individual 
consumption and a higher standard of life.' 103 If interventionism 
worked, it took nine years and a world war to demonstrate the fact. 

The political success of Roosevelt was due to quite other factors 
than the effectiveness of his economic measures, which were largely 
window-dressing, transposed by time into golden myth. He demon- 
strated the curious ability of the aristocratic rentier liberal (as 
opposed to self-made plebeians like Harding, Coolidge and Hoover) 
to enlist the loyalty and even the affection of the clerisy. 
Newspaper-owners opposed Roosevelt, but their journalists loved 
him, forgiving his frequent lies, concealing the fact that he took 
money off them at poker (which had damned Harding), obeying his 
malicious injunctions to give his Administration colleagues a 'hard 
time'. 104 There were dark corners in the Roosevelt White House: his 
own infidelities, his wife's passionate attachments to another 
woman, the unscrupulous, sometimes vicious manner in which he 
used executive power. 105 None was exposed in his lifetime or for 
long after. Even more important was his appeal to intellectuals, once 
the news he employed a 'brains trust' got about. 106 In fact, of 
Roosevelt's entourage only Harry Hopkins, a social worker not an 
intellectual as such, Rexford Tugwell and Felix Frankfurter were 
radical as well as influential; the two last disagreed violently, 
Tugwell being a Stalinist-type big-scale statist, Frankfurter an anti- 
business trust-buster, symbolizing in turn the First New Deal 
(1933-6) and the Second New Deal (1937-8), which were flatly 
contradictory. 107 There was no intellectual coherence to the 
Roosevelt administration, but it seemed a place where the clerisy 
could feel at home. Among the able young who came to Washington 
were Dean Acheson, Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson, Adlai 
Stevenson, William Fulbright, Abe Fortas, Henry Fowler and, not 
least, Alger Hiss, who held meetings with four other New Deal 
members of a Communist cell in a Connecticut Avenue music 
studio. 108 

Attacks on Roosevelt served only to strengthen his appeal to the 
intelligentsia. A curious case in point was Mencken. In 1926 the New 
York Times had described him 'the most powerful private citizen 


in America'. Walter Lippmann called him 'the most powerful 
personal influence on this whole generation of educated people'. 109 
A great part of his appeal lay in his ferocious attacks on presidents. 
Theodore Roosevelt was 'blatant, crude, overly confidential, devi- 
ous, tyrannical, vainglorious and sometimes quite childish'. Taft's 
characteristic was 'native laziness and shiftlessness'. Wilson was 'the 
perfect model of the Christian cad' who wished to impose 'a Cossack 
despotism'. Harding was 'a stonehead', Coolidge 'petty, sordid and 
dull ... a cheap and trashy fellow . . . almost devoid of any notion of 
honour ... a dreadful little cad'. Hoover had 'a natural instinct for 
low, disingenuous, fraudulent manipulators'. 110 These fusillades 
enthralled the intelligentsia and helped permanently to wound the 
reputations of the men at whom they were directed. Mencken 
excelled himself in attacking Roosevelt, whose whiff of fraudulent 
collectivism filled him with genuine outrage. He was 'the Fiihrer', 
'the quack', surrounded by 'an astounding rabble of impudent 
nobodies', 'a gang of half-educated pedagogues, non-constitutional 
lawyers, starry-eyed uplifters and other such sorry wizards', and his 
New Deal 'a political racket', 'a series of stupendous bogus miracles', 
with its 'constant appeals to class envy and hatred', treating govern- 
ment as 'a milch-cow with 125 million teats' and marked by 
'frequent repudiations of categorical pledges'.* The only conse- 
quence of these diatribes was that Mencken forfeited his influence 
with anyone under thirty. 

Intellectuals, indeed, relished the paranoia of the rich and the 
conventional, and the extraordinary vehemence and fertility of 
invention with which Roosevelt was assailed. His next-door neigh- 
bour at Hyde Park, Howland Spencer, called him 'a frustrated 
darling', a 'swollen-headed nitwit with a Messiah complex and the 
brain of a boy scout'; to Senator Thomas Schall of Minnesota he was 
'a weak-minded Louis xiv'; Owen Young, Chairman of General 
Electric, claimed he 'babbled to himself, Senator William Borah of 
Idaho that he spent his time in his study cutting out paper dolls. 
According to rumour (often surfacing in pamphlets), he was insane, 
weak-minded, a hopeless drug-addict who burst into hysterical 
laughter at press conferences, an impostor (the real Roosevelt was in 
an insane-asylum), under treatment by a psychiatrist disguised as a 
White House footman, and had to be kept in a straitjacket most of 
the time. It was said that bars had been placed in the windows to 

* Mencken himself was variously described as a polecat, a Prussian, a British toady, a howling 
hyena, a parasite, a mangy mongrel, an affected ass, an unsavoury creature, putrid of soul, a 
public nuisance, a literary stink-pot, a mountebank, a rantipole, a vain hysteric, an outcast, a 
literary renegade, and a trained elephant who wrote the gibberish of an imbecile: Charles 
Fecher: Mencken: A Study of his Thought (New York 1978), 179 footnote. 


prevent him from hurling himself out (the same rumour had arisen in 
Wilson's last phase; the bars, in fact, had protected the children of 
Theodore Roosevelt). He was said to be suffering from an Oedipus 
complex, a 'Silver Cord complex', heart trouble, leprosy, syphilis, 
incontinence, impotency, cancer, comas and that his polio was 
inexorably 'ascending into his head'. He was called a Svengali, a 
Little Lord Fauntleroy, a simpleton, a modern political Juliet 'mak- 
ing love to the people from the White House balcony', a pledge- 
breaker, a Communist, tyrant, oath-breaker, fascist, socialist, the 
Demoralizer, the Panderer, the Violator, the Embezzler, petulant, 
insolent, rash, ruthless, blundering, a sorcerer, an impostor, callow 
upstart, shallow autocrat, a man who encouraged swearing and 'low 
slang' and a 'subjugator of the human spirit'. 111 Crossing the 
Atlantic on the Europa, just before the 1936 election, Thomas Wolfe 
recorded that, when he said he was voting for the Monster, 

. . . boiled shirts began to roll up their backs like window-shades. Maidenly 
necks which a moment before were as white and graceful as the swan's 
became instantly so distended with the energies of patriotic rage that 
diamond dog-collars and ropes of pearls were snapped and sent flying like 
so many pieces of string. I was told that if I voted for this vile Communist, 
this sinister fascist, this scheming and contriving socialist and his gang of 
conspirators, I had no longer any right to consider myself an American 
citizen. 112 

It was against this background that Roosevelt won the greatest of 
electoral victories in 1936, by 27,477,000 to 16,680,000 votes, 
carrying all but two states (Maine and Vermont) and piling up 
enormous Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. 
Roosevelt's attraction for the young, the progressives and the 
intellectuals survived even the abandonment of New Deal innova- 
tions in 1938 and his collapse into the hands of the Big City 
Democratic machine bosses, who ensured his re-election in 1940 and 

The truth is that Roosevelt appeared to be in tune with the Thirties 
spirit, which had repudiated the virtues of capitalist enterprise and 
embraced those of collectivism. The heroes of the 1920s had been 
businessmen, the sort of titans, led by Thomas Edison, who had 
endorsed Harding and Coolidge on their front porches. The 1929 
crash and its aftermath weakened faith in this pantheon. By 1931 
Felix Frankfurter was writing to Bruce Bliven, editor of the New 
Republic: 'Nothing I believe sustains the present system more than 
the pervasive worship of success and the touching faith we have in 
financial and business messiahs .... I believe it to be profoundly 
important to undermine that belief .... Undermine confidence in 


their greatness and you have gone a long way towards removing 
some basic obstructions to the exploration of economic and social 
problems.' 113 By 1932 this undermining process was largely com- 
plete, helped by revelations that J.P.Morgan, for instance, had paid 
no income-tax for the three previous years, and that Andrew Mellon 
had been coached by an expert from his own Treasury Department 
in the art of tax-avoidance. 

Loss of faith in American business leaders coincided with a sudden 
and overwhelming discovery that the Soviet Union existed and that it 
offered an astonishing and highly relevant alternative to America's 
agony. Stuart Chase's A New Deal ended with the question: 'Why 
should the Russians have all the fun of remaking a world?' 114 The 
first Soviet Five Year Plan had been announced in 1928, but it was 
only four years later that its importance was grasped by American 
writers. Then a great spate of books appeared, praising Soviet-style 
planning and holding it up as a model to America. Joseph Freeman: 
The Soviet Worker, Waldo Frank: Dawn in Russia, William Z. 
Foster: Towards Soviet America, Kirby Page: A New Economic 
Order, Harry Laidler: Socialist Planning, Sherwood Eddy: Russia 
Today: What Can We Learn From It? all of them published in 1932, 
reinforced Lincoln Steffens' best-selling pro-Soviet autobiography, 
which had appeared the year before, and introduced a still more 
influential tract, The Coming Struggle for Power by the British 
Communist John Strachey, which appeared in 1933. 115 

America was and is a millennarian society where overweening 
expectations can easily oscillate into catastrophic loss of faith. In the 
early 1930s there was net emigration. When Amtorg, the Soviet 
trading agency, advertised for 6,000 skilled workers, more than 
100,000 Americans applied. To the comedian Will Rogers: Those 
rascals in Russia, along with their cuckoo stuff have got some mighty 
good ideas .... Just think of everybody in a country going to work.' 
'All roads in our day lead to Moscow,' Steffens proclaimed; and 
Strachey echoed him: To travel from the capitalist world into Soviet 
territory is to pass from death to birth.' We must now explore the 
gruesome and unconscious irony of these remarks. 


The Devils 

At the very moment the American intelligentsia turned to totalitarian 
Europe for spiritual sustenance and guidance in orderly planning, it 
was in fact embarking on two decades of unprecedented ferocity 
and desolation - moral relativism in monstrous incarnation. On 
21 December 1929 Stalin had celebrated his fiftieth birthday, as 
absolute master of an autocracy for which, in concentrated savagery, 
no parallel in history could be found. A few weeks earlier, while the 
New York Stock Exchange was collapsing, he had given orders for 
the forced collectivization of the Russian peasants, an operation 
involving far greater material loss than anything within the scope of 
Wall Street, and a human slaughter on a scale no earlier tyranny had 
possessed the physical means, let alone the wish, to bring about. By 
the time John Strachey wrote of fleeing capitalist death to find Soviet 
birth, this gruesome feat of social engineering had been accom- 
plished. Five million peasants were dead; twice as many in forced 
labour camps. By that time, too, Stalin had acquired a pupil, admirer 
and rival in the shape of Hitler, controlling a similar autocracy and 
planning human sacrifices to ideology on an even ampler scale. For 
Americans, then, it was a case of moving from a stricken Arcadia to 
an active pandaemonium. The devils had taken over. 

When Lenin died in 1924 his autocracy was complete and Stalin, 
as General Secretary of the Party, had already inherited it. All that 
remained was the elimination of potential rivals for sole power. For 
this Stalin was well equipped. This ex-seminarist and revolutionary 
thug was half-gangster, half-bureaucrat. He had no ideals; no 
ideological notions of his own. According to the composer Shostako- 
vich, Stalin wanted to be tall, with powerful hands. The court painter 
Nalbandian satisfied this wish by fixing the angle of vision from 
below and getting his master to fold his hands over his stomach; 
several other portrait painters were shot. 1 Stalin was only five foot 
four inches tall, thin, swarthy and with a pockmarked face. A Tsarist 



police description of him, compiled when he was twenty-two, noted 
that the second and third toes of his left foot were fused together; 
and in addition an accident as a boy caused his left elbow to be stiff, 
with a shortening of the arm, the left hand being noticeably thicker 
than the right. As Shostakovich said, he kept hiding his right hand. 
Bukharin, two years before he was murdered, said that in his view 
Stalin suffered bitterly from these disabilities and from real or 
imagined intellectual incapacity. This suffering is probably the most 
human thing about him'; but it led him to take revenge on anyone 
with higher capacities: There is something diabolical and inhuman 
about his compulsion to take vengeance for this same suffering on 
everybody .... This is a small, vicious man; no, not a man, but a 
devil.' 2 Stalin did not have Lenin's ideological passion for violence. 
But he was capable of unlimited violence to achieve his purposes, or 
indeed for no particular reason; and he sometimes nursed feelings of 
revenge against individuals for years before executing them. He 
served his apprenticeship in large-scale violence as Chairman of the 
North Caucasus Military District in 1918, when he decided to act 
against his 'bourgeois military specialists' whom he suspected of lack 
of enthusiasm for killing. The chief of staff of the district, Colonel 
Nosovich, testified: 'Stalin's order was brief, "Shoot them!" .... A 
large number of officers . . . were seized by the Cheka and 
immediately shot without trial.' 3 At the time Stalin also complained 
of all three Red Army commanders in the area sent to him by Trotsky 
and later held this as a grudge against him. He had them all 
murdered in 1937-9. 4 

However, immediately after Lenin's incapacitation and mindful of 
his criticisms, Stalin sought power by posing as a moderate and a 
man of the Centre. His problem was as follows. By controlling the 
rapidly expanding Secretariat Stalin was already in virtual control of 
the party machinery and in the process of filling the Central 
Committee with his creatures. On the Politburo, however, four 
important figures stood between him and autocracy: Trotsky, the 
most famous and ferocious of the Bolsheviks, who controlled the 
army; Zinoviev, who ran the Leningrad party - for which Stalin, 
then and later, had a peculiar hatred; Kamenev, who controlled the 
Moscow party, now the most important; and Bukharin, the leading 
theorist. The first three leaned towards the Left, the last to the Right, 
and the way in which Stalin divided and used them to destroy each 
other, and then appropriated their policies as required - he seems to 
have had none of his own — is a classic exercise in power-politics. 

It is important to realize that, just as Lenin was the creator of the 
new autocracy and its instruments and practice of mass terror, so 
also there were no innocents among his heirs. All were vicious killers. 


Even Bukharin, whom Lenin called 'soft as wax' and who has been 
presented as the originator of 'socialism with a human face', 5 was an 
inveterate denouncer of others, 'a gaoler of the best Communists' as 
he was bitterly called. 6 Zinoviev and Kamenev were wholly un- 
scrupulous party bosses. Trotsky, who after his fall presented himself 
as a believer in party democracy and who was apotheosized by his 
follower and hagiographer Isaac Deutscher as the epitome of all that 
was noblest in the Bolshevik movement, was never more than a 
sophisticated political gangster. 7 He carried through the original 
October 1917 putsch and thereafter slaughtered opponents of the 
regime with the greatest abandon. It was he who first held wives and 
children of Tsarist officers hostage, threatening to shoot them for 
non-compliance with Soviet orders, a device soon built into the 
system. He was equally ruthless with his own side, shooting com- 
missars and Red Army commanders who 'showed cowardice' (i.e. 
retreated), later to become a universal Stalinist practice; the rank- 
and-file were decimated. 8 Trotsky always took the most ruthless line. 
He invented conscript labour and destroyed the independent trade 
unions. He used unspeakable brutality to put down the Kronstadt 
rising of ordinary sailors and was even preparing to use poison gas 
when it collapsed. 9 Like Lenin, he identified himself with history and 
argued that history was above all moral restraints. 

Trotsky remained a moral relativist of the most dangerous kind 
right to the end. 'Problems of revolutionary morality', he wrote in his 
last, posthumous book, 'are fused with the problems of revolution- 
ary strategy and tactics.' 10 There were no such things as moral 
criteria; only criteria of political efficacy. He said it was right to 
murder the Tsar's children, as he had done, because it was politically 
useful and those who carried it out represented the proletariat; but 
Stalin did not represent the proletariat - he had become a 'bureau- 
cratic excess' - and therefore it was wrong for him to murder 
Trotsky's children. 11 Trotsky's followers are, of course, notorious 
for their attachment to this subjectively defined code of ethics and 
their contempt for objective morality. 

The term 'Trotskyist', first used as a term of abuse by Zinoviev, 
was defined in its mature form by Stalin, who created the distinction 
between 'permanent revolution' (Trotsky) and 'revolution in one 
country' (Stalin). In fact they all believed in immediate world 
revolution to begin with, and all turned to consolidating the regime 
when it didn't happen. Trotsky wanted to press ahead with indus- 
trialization faster than Stalin but both were, from first to last, 
opportunists. They had graduated in the same slaughterhouse and 
their quarrel was essentially about who should be its new high priest. 
Had Trotsky come out on top, he would probably have been even 


more bloodthirsty than Stalin. But he would not have lasted: he 
lacked the skills of survival. 

Indeed Stalin found it easy to destroy him. Soviet internal struggles 
have always been about ambition and fear rather than policies. 
Although Kamenev and Zinoviev were broadly in agreement with 
Trotsky's Left line, Stalin formed a triumvirate with them to prevent 
him using the Red Army to stage a personal putsch. He used the two 
Leftists to hunt Trotsky down and afterwards was able to present 
them as violently impetuous and himself as the servant of modera- 
tion. All the crucial moves took place in 1923, while Lenin was still 
in a coma. Stalin flexed his muscles in the summer by getting the 
ogpu to arrest a number of party members for 'indiscipline 5 and 
persuading his two Leftist allies to endorse the arrest of the first 
major Bolshevist victim, Sultan-Galiyev (Stalin did not actually 
murder him until six years later). 12 All the time he was building up 
his following in local organizations and the cc. 

Trotsky made every mistake open to him. During his 1920 visit 
Bertrand Russell had shrewdly noted the contrast between Trotsky's 
histrionics and vanity, and Lenin's lack of such weakness. An 
eye-witness account of the 1923-4 Politburo meetings says that 
Trotsky never bothered to conceal his contempt for his colleagues, 
sometimes slamming out or ostentatiously turning his back and 
reading a novel. 13 He scorned the notion of political intrigue and still 
more its demeaning drudgery. He never attempted to use the army 
since he put the party first; but then he did not build up a following 
in the party either. He must have been dismayed when for the first 
time he attacked Stalin in the autumn of 1923 and discovered how 
well-entrenched he was. Trotsky wanted the palm without the dust, a 
fatal mistake for a gangster who could not appeal from the mafia to 
the public. He was often sick or away; never there at the right time. 
He even missed Lenin's state funeral, a serious error since it was 
Stalin's first move towards restoring the reverential element in 
Russian life that had been so sadly missed since the destruction of the 
throne and church. 14 Soon Stalin was resurrecting the old 
Trotsky-Lenin rows. At the thirteenth Party Congress in May 1924 
he branded Trotsky with the Leninist term of 'fractionalist'. Trotsky 
refused to retract his criticism that Stalin was becoming too power- 
ful. But he could not dispute Lenin's condemnation of internal 
opposition and, like a man accused of heresy by the Inquisition, he 
was disarmed by his own religious belief. 'Comrades,' he admitted, 
'none of us wishes to be right or can be right against the party. The 
party is in the last resort always right ... I know that one cannot be 
right against the party. One can only be right with the party and 
through the party, since history has created no other paths to the 


realization of what is right.' 15 Since Stalin was already in control of 
the party, Trotsky's words forged the ice-pick that crushed his skull 
sixteen years later. 

By the end of 1924 Stalin, with Kamenev and Zinoviev doing the 
dirty work, had created the heresy of Trotskyism' and related it to 
Trotsky's earlier disputes with Lenin, who had been embalmed and 
put into his apotheosis-tomb five months earlier. In January 1925 
Stalin was thus able to strip Trotsky of the army control with the full 
approval of the party. Party stalwarts were now informed that 
Trotsky's part in the Revolution was very much less than he claimed 
and his face was already being blacked out of relevant photographs - 
the first instance of Stalinist re-writing of history. 16 Trotsky's first 
replacement as army boss, Frunze, proved awkward; so it seems 
Stalin had him murdered in October 1925 in the course of an 
operation his doctors had advised against. 17 His successor, a creature 
later to be known as Marshal Voroshilov, proved entirely obedient 
and accepted the rapid penetration of the army by the ogpu, which 
Stalin now controlled. 

With Trotsky destroyed (he was expelled from the Politburo 
October 1926, from the party the following month, sent into internal 
exile in 1928 and exiled from Russia in 1929; murdered on Stalin's 
orders in Mexico in 1940), Stalin turned on his Leftist allies. Early in 
1925 he stole Kamenev's Moscow party from under his nose by 
suborning his deputy, Uglanov. In September he brought in Bukharin 
and the Right to help in a frontal attack on Zinoviev-Kamenev, and 
had them decisively defeated at the Party Congress in December. 
Immediately afterwards, Stalin's most trusted and ruthless hench- 
man, Molotov, was sent to Leningrad with a powerful squad of party 
'heavies', to smash up Zinoviev's party apparatus there and take it 
over - essentially the same methods, but on a larger scale, that Al 
Capone was employing to extend his territory in Chicago at that very 
time. 18 Frightened, Zinoviev now joined forces with Trotsky, the 
man he had helped to break. But it was too late: they were both 
immediately expelled from the party, and at the fifteenth Party 
Congress in December 1926, Kamenev's protest was shouted down 
by the massed ranks of carefully drilled Stalinists who now filled the 
party's ranks. Consciously echoing Lenin, Stalin came out into the 
open against his old allies: 'Enough comrades, an end must be put to 
this game .... Kamenev's speech is the most lying, pharasaical, 
scoundrelly and roguish of all the opposition speeches that have been 
made from this platform.' 19 

The moment the Left was beaten and disarmed, Stalin began to 
adopt their policy of putting pressure on the peasants to speed 
industrialization, thus preparing the means to destroy Bukharin and 


the Right. The big clash came on 10 July 1928 at a meeting of the 
Central Committee, when Bukharin argued that while the kulak 
himself was not a threat - 'we can shoot him down with machine- 
guns' — forced collectivization would unite all the peasants against 
the government. Stalin interrupted him with sinister piety, 'A fearful 
dream, but God is merciful!' 20 God might be; not the General- 
Secretary. The next day, a scared Bukharin speaking on behalf of his 
allies Rykov, the nominal head of the government, and Tomsky, the 
hack 'trade union' leader, had a secret meeting with Kamenev and 
offered to form a united front to stop Stalin. He now realized, he 
said, that Stalin was not primarily interested in policy but in sole 
power: 'He will strangle us. He is an unprincipled intriguer who 
subordinates everything to his appetite for power. At any given 
moment he will change his theories in order to get rid of someone . . . 
[He is] Genghis Khan!' He seems to have thought that Yagoda, of the 
ogpu, would come over to them; but he was misinformed. 21 None 
of these nervous men had the numerical support in the key party 
bodies to outvote Stalin; or the means, in the shape of trained men 
with guns, to overrule him by force; or the skill and resolution - both 
of which he had shown in abundance - to destroy him by intrigue. In 
1929 they were all dealt with: Rykov ousted from the premiership, 
Tomsky from the trade union leadership, and both, plus Bukharin, 
forced publicly to confess their errors (Kamenev and Zinoviev had 
already done so). They could now be tried and murdered at leisure. 

Stalin had already begun to perfect the dramaturgy of terror. 
Drawing on his monkish memories, he arranged party meetings to 
provide a well-rehearsed antiphonal dialogue between himself and 
his claque, with Stalin suggesting moderation in dealing with party 
'enemies' and the claque insisting on severity. Thus, reluctantly 
demanding the expulsion of Trotsky and Zinoviev, Stalin said he had 
been against this before and had been 'cursed' by 'honest Bolsheviks' 
for being too lenient. The claque: 'Yes - and we still do curse you for 
it.' 22 In May-July 1929 Stalin staged the first of his show-trials, 
against a group of Donbass mining engineers charged with 'sabot- 
age'. The script was written by the ogpu official Y.G.Yevdokimov, 
one of Stalin's creatures, and featured the twelve-year-old son of one 
of the accused, who denounced his father and called for his execu- 
tion. 23 The actual head of the ogpu, Menzhinsky, opposed this trial, 
as did some Politburo members. 24 But this was the last time Stalin 
met genuine opposition from within the secret police or security 
apparatus. Towards the end of the year he ordered the shooting of 
the senior ogpu official Yakov Blyumkin, the first party member to 
be executed for an intra-party crime. 25 

Thereafter the trials went exactly as Stalin planned them, down to 


the last indignant crowd-scene, like some gigantic production by the 
Soviet cineaste Sergei Eisenstein. While the trial of the 'Industrial 
Party' was taking place the next year, the body of the court shouted, 
at carefully arranged intervals, 'Death to the wreckers!' and in the 
streets outside, thousands of workers marched past shouting 'Death, 
death, death!' 26 By 1929 Stalin had the all-purpose term Stakhtyites 
(wreckers) for anyone he wished to destroy. As he put it, 'Stakhtyites 
are now lurking in all branches of our industry. Many, though far 
from all, have been caught .... Wrecking is all the more dangerous 
because it is linked with international capital. Bourgeois wrecking is 
an indubitable sign that capitalist elements ... are gathering strength 
for new attacks on the Soviet Union.' 27 He was rapidly moving to the 
point when he had only to mention a list of names to the Central 
Committee and would receive the instant instructions: 'Arrest, try, 
shoot!' 28 

While goading on the witch-hunting and building up the paranoia 
and hysteria, Stalin was contriving his own apotheosis as the heir of 
the deified Lenin. As early as 1924—5, Yuzovka, Yuzovo and 
Tsaritsyn became Stalino, Stalinsky, Stalingrad; but it was the fiftieth 
birthday celebrations at the end of 1929 which marked the real 
beginning not only of Stalin's unfettered personal rule but of the 
Stalin cult in all its nightmare maturity, with names like Stalinabad, 
Stalin-Aul, Staliniri, Stalinissi, Stalino, Stalinogorsk, Stalinsk, 
Mount Stalin, sprouting all over the Soviet Empire, and with the first 
appearance of the Stalinist litanies: Man of Steel, the Granite 
Bolshevik, the Brass-hard Leninist, the Iron Soldier, the Universal 
Genius, 29 a form of ruler-worship which went back to the Egyptian 
pharaohs. While Soviet government became more hieratic and 
liturgical in its externals, and more terroristic in essentials, Soviet 
'science' moved into the irrational, with quasi-religious groups of 
'leading thinkers', known variously as Geneticists, Teleologists, 
Mechanists and Dialecticians — there were many others — struggling 
to win Stalin's approval for their all-embracing theories of physical 
progress, 30 Some of the experts at Stalin's court were ready to argue 
that, with the 'Man of Steel' in charge, human will could overcome 
anything, and what had hitherto been regarded as the laws of nature 
or of economics could be suspended. As one of his economists, 
S.G.Shumilin, put it: 'Our task is not to study economics but to 
change it. We are bound by no laws.' 31 

It was against this background of irrationality, and thus emanci- 
pated from any system of economics or morality, that Stalin carried 
through his colossal exercise in social engineering, the destruction of 
the independent Russian peasantry. As we have seen, it was the 
peasants who had made Lenin's putsch possible; and who had later, 


by defying him, forced on him the surrender he had concealed by the 
euphemism New Economic Planning. It was in the name of the 
continuity of Leninism and the nep that Stalin had destroyed the Left 
in the years 1924—8. But now the time had come to exact a dreadful 
revenge on the rural multitudes who had humbled Soviet power. 

There was no theoretical basis in Marxism, or anything else, for 
what Stalin now did. But it had a certain monstrous logic. There is no 
point of stability in a state which is socializing itself. It must go either 
forward or back. If it does not go forward, the power of the market 
system, which expresses certain basic human instincts of barter and 
accumulation, is such that it will always reassert itself, and capital- 
ism will make its reappearance. Then the embryo socialist state will 
collapse. If socialism is to go forward, it must push ahead with 
large-scale industrialization. That means surplus food for the 
workers; and surplus food to export to raise money for capital 
investment. In short the peasants must pay the price for socialist 
progress. And since they are unwilling to pay this price voluntarily, 
force must be used, in ever-growing quantities, until their will is 
broken and they deliver what is required of them. That is the bitter 
logic of socialist power which Stalin grasped in the 1920s: there was 
no stable point of rest between a return to capitalism and the use of 
unlimited force. 32 

This logic formed a sinister counterpoint to the successive stages of 
Stalin's destruction of his opponents to Left and Right. Trotsky, 
Zinoviev and Kamenev had always argued that the peasant would 
never surrender enough food voluntarily, and must be coerced and, if 
need be, crushed. Stalin removed them, using the argument that they 
planned to 'plunder the peasantry' which was 'the ally of the 
working class', not to be subjected to 'increased pressure'. 33 But the 
harvest of 1927 was poor and that was when the logic of socialism 
began to operate. The peasants hoarded what food they had; they 
would not take the government's paper money, which bought 
nothing worth having. Thus Lenin's compromise, based on the 
theory of backing the 76.7 million 'middle peasants' and the 22.4 
million 'poor peasants' against the 5 million 'kulaks' (in fact it was 
impossible to make these distinctions except on paper: all peasants 
hated the government), broke down. 34 

In January 1928, with no food in the towns, no grain exports and 
increasingly short of foreign currency, Stalin unleashed his first 
attack on the peasants, sending 30,000 armed party workers into the 
countryside, a repetition of the gouging process used in 1918. There 
were soon reports of atrocities, disguised by such phrases as 'compe- 
tition between grain-collective organizations', 'regrettable lapses 
from Soviet legality', 'slipping into the methods of War Commun- 


ism', 'administrative mistakes' and so forth. More sinister was the 
growing tendency of Stalin's spokesmen to lump all peasants to- 
gether. Molotov spoke of forcing 'the middle peasant to come to 
heel'; Mikoyan accused the 'poor peasant' of being 'under kulak 
influence'. Some 1,400 'terrorist acts' by peasants (that is, resistance 
to seizure of food by armed force) were reported in 1928. One kulak, 
caught with a rifle, sneered, 'This is what the class war is all about.' 
The Smolensk region records, captured by the Nazis and later 
published, give us our only glimpse, through unfiltered official 
documents, into this seething cauldron of peasant agony. For the first 
time Stalin used the word 'liquidate', referring to 'the first serious 
campaign of capitalist elements in the countryside . . . against the 
Soviet power'. Anyone, he cynically remarked, who thought the 
policy could be carried through without unpleasantness, 'is not a 
Marxist but a fool'. 35 

But stealing the peasants' food led to them sowing less, and the 
1928 harvest was even worse. By the autumn of 1928, Stalin's need 
for foreign exchange was desperate, as we know from a quite 
separate development, the large-scale secret sales of Russian art 
treasures to the West. It was in November 1928, according to one of 
the Leningrad Hermitage curators, Tatiana Chernavin, that 'We 
were commanded in the shortest possible time to reorganize the 
whole of the Hermitage collection "on the principles of sociological 
formations" . . . and set to work and pulled to pieces a collection 
which it had taken more than a hundred years to create.' 36 The 
paintings went to millionaires all over the world. The biggest 
purchaser was Andrew Mellon, who in 1930-1 bought for 
$6,654,053 a total of twenty-one paintings, including five Rem- 
brandts, a Van Eyck, two Franz Hals, a Rubens, four Van Dycks, 
two Raphaels, a Velazquez, a Botticelli, a Veronese, a Chardin, a 
Titian and a Perugino - probably the finest hoard ever transferred in 
one swoop and cheap at the price. All went into the Washington 
National Gallery, which Mellon virtually created. It is one of the 
many ironies of this period that, at a time when the intelligentsia 
were excoriating Mellon for tax-evasion, and contrasting the 
smooth-running Soviet planned economy with the breakdown in 
America, he was secretly exploiting the frantic necessities of the 
Soviet leaders to form the basis of one of America's most splendid 
public collections. 37 The dollar value of Mellon's purchases alone 
came to a third of all officially recorded Soviet exports to the USA in 

By a further and more fearful irony, it was the example of 
successful enterprise in America which finally persuaded Stalin to 
drop his flagging policy of extorting grain from independent pea- 


sants and to herd them all by force into collectives. Hitherto Stalin 
had always denied that co-operatives and collectives were different, 
describing the collective farm as merely 'the most pronounced type of 
producer co-operative'. 38 As such it was a voluntary institution. But 
in 1928 Stalin heard of the great Campbell farm in Montana, 
covering over 30,000 hectares, the biggest single grain-producer in 
the world. 39 He decided to set up such 'grain factories' in Russia, on 
a gigantic scale. One of 150,000 hectares was cobbled together the 
same year in the Caucasus. This unit was equipped with 300 tractors, 
and the tractor (as opposed to the wooden plough, of which 5.5 
million were still in use in Russia in October 1927) became for Stalin 
a symbol of the future, as electricity was for Lenin. He got his men to 
accuse kulaks of an anti-tractor campaign, saying they spread 
rumours of 'anti-Christ coming to earth on a steel horse', of 
petrol-fumes 'poisoning' the soil and Volga sayings: 'The tractor digs 
deep, the soil dries up.' In fact it was the richer peasants who were 
buying tractors as quickly as they could afford them. Stalin's forcing 
of what he called 'tractor columns' and 'tractor stations' on the 
collectives led to what one of the few independent observers de- 
scribed as 'the reckless treatment of machinery in all the socialized 
lands' and 'fleets of disabled tractors' which 'dot the Russian 
landscape'. 40 But this was characteristic of Stalin's ignorance of what 
actually went on in the Russian countryside - an ignorance, of 
course, which Lenin had shared. According to Khrushchev, 'Stalin 
separated himself from the people and never went anywhere .... The 
last time he visited a village was in January 1928. ' 41 The whole of the 
gigantic operation of collectivizing the peasants, involving about 105 
million people, was conducted from Stalin's study in the Kremlin. 

Not that there was much deliberative and rational planning about 
it. Quite the contrary. The case against using force to bring peasants 
into state farms had always been regarded as unassailable. It was 
based on Engels's dictum in his The Peasant Question in France and 
Germany (1894): 'When we acquire state power we shall not think 
of appropriating the small peasants by force.' Lenin often quoted this 
passage. Even Trotsky had spoken of 'agreement', 'compromise' and 
'gradual transition'. As late as 2 June 1929 Pravda insisted: 'Neither 
terror nor de-kulakization, but a socialist offensive on the paths of 
nep.' 42 The decision to collectivize by force was taken suddenly, 
without any kind of public debate, in the last weeks of 1929. It was 
typical of the way in which the pursuit of Utopia leads the tiny 
handful of men in power abruptly to assault a society many centuries 
in the making, to treat men like ants and stamp on their nest. 
Without warning, Stalin called for an 'all-out offensive against the 
kulak .... We must smash the kulaks, eliminate them as a class .... 


We must strike at the kulaks so hard as to prevent them from rising 
to their feet again .... We must break down the resistance of that 
class in open battle.' On 27 December 1929, the Feast of St John the 
Apostle, he declared war with the slogan 'Liquidate the kulaks as a 
class!' 43 It was the green light for a policy of extermination, more 
than three years before Hitler came to power, twelve years before the 
ordering of the 'Final Solution'. 

Collectivization was a calamity such as no peasantry had known 
since the Thirty Years' War in Germany. The organizing agency was 
the ogpu but any instrument which came to hand was used. The 
poorer peasants were encouraged to loot the homes of dispossessed 
kulaks and hunt them down across the fields. But soon kulak meant 
any peasant whatever who actively opposed collectivization, and 
entire peasant communities resisted desperately. They were sur- 
rounded by police and military units, using methods which Hitler 
imitated in detail when rounding up the Jews, and gunned down or 
forced into trucks for deportation. Deutscher, travelling in Russia, 
met an ogpu colonel who wept, saying, 'I am an old Bolshevik. I 
worked in the underground against the Tsar and then I fought in the 
civil war. Did I do all that in order that I should now surround 
villages with machine-guns and order my men to fire indiscriminately 
into crowds of peasants? Oh, no, no, no!' 44 The large-scale violence 
began at the end of 1929 and continued to the end of February, by 
which time the number of collectivized households had jumped to 
about 30 per cent. Disturbed by the scale of the resistance, Stalin 
suddenly reversed his policy in a Pravda article of 2 March 1930: 
'One cannot implant collective farms by violence - that would be 
stupid and reactionary.' But half the collectives then voted to 
denationalize themselves in a few weeks, and by early summer he had 
resumed his 'stupid and reactionary' policy of force, this time 
carrying it through to the bitter end. 45 

The result was what the great Marxist scholar Leszek Kolakowski 
has called 'probably the most massive warlike operation ever con- 
ducted by a state against its own citizens'. 46 The number of peasants 
actually shot by the regime is not yet known and may not be 
discoverable even when, and if, scholars ever get at the Soviet 
archives. Churchill said that, in Moscow in August 1942, Stalin told 
him coolly that 'ten millions' of peasants had been 'dealt with'. 47 
According to one scholarly estimate, in addition to those peasants 
executed by the ogpu or killed in battle, between 10 and 11 million 
were transported to north European Russia, to Siberia and Central 
Asia; of these one-third went into concentration camps, a third into 
internal exile and a third were executed or died in transit. 48 

The peasants who remained were stripped of their property, 


however small, and herded into the 'grain factories'. To prevent them 
from fleeing to the towns, a system of internal passports was 
introduced, and any change of domicile without official permission 
was punished by imprisonment. Peasants were not allowed passports 
at all. So they were tied to the soil, glebae adscript^ as in the final 
phases of the Roman Empire or during the age of feudal serfdom. 
The system was more stringent than in the blackest periods of the 
Tsarist autocracy, and was not relaxed until the 1970s. 49 

The result was predictable: what has been termed 'perhaps the 
only case in history of a purely man-made famine'. 50 Rather than 
surrender their grain, the peasants burnt it. They smashed their 
implements. They slaughtered 18 million horses, 30 million cattle 
(45 per cent of the total), 100 million sheep and goats (two-thirds of 
the total). Even according to the figures in the official Soviet history, 
livestock production was only 65 per cent of the 1913 level in 1933, 
draught animals fell by more than 50 per cent, and total draught 
power, including tractors, did not surpass the 1928 level until 1935. 51 
Despite the famine of 1932—3, Stalin managed to keep up some grain 
exports to pay for imported machinery, including the tooling of his 
new war-factories. The cost in Russian lives was staggering. Iosif 
Dyadkin's demographic study, 'Evaluation of Unnatural Deaths in 
the Population of the USSR 1927-58', which circulated in samizdat 
(underground newsletter) form in the late 1970s, calculates that 
during the collectivization and 'elimination of the classes' period, 
1929-36, 10 million men, women and children met unnatural 
deaths. 52 

The re-feudalization of the Soviet peasantry, who then formed 
three-quarters of the population, had a calamitous effect on the 
morale of the Communist rank-and-file, who carried it through. As 
Kolakowski puts it: 'The whole party became an organization of 
torturers and oppressors. No one was innocent, and all Communists 
were accomplices in the coercion of society. Thus the party acquired 
a new species of moral unity, and embarked on a course from which 
there was no turning back.' 53 Exactly the same thing was to happen 
to the German National Socialists a few years later: it was Stalin who 
pointed the way to Hitler. Everyone in the party knew what was 
going on. Bukharin grumbled privately that the 'mass annihilation of 
completely defenceless men, women and children' was acclimatizing 
party members to violence and brute obedience, transforming them 
'into cogs in some terrible machine'. 54 But only one person protested 
to Stalin's face. His second wife, Nadezhda, had left him in 1926 
with her two small children, Vasily and Svetlana. Stalin persuaded 
her to return, but had her watched by the ogpu and, when she 
complained, traced her informants and had them arrested. On 


7 November 1932, in front of witnesses, she protested violently to 
him about his treatment of the peasants, and then went home and 
shot herself. This was the second family drama - his first son Yakov 
had attempted suicide in despair in 1928 - and Svetlana later wrote: 
'I believe that my mother's death, which he had taken as a personal 
betrayal, deprived his soul of the last vestiges of human warmth.' 55 

Stalin's response was to get the ogpu to take over the organiza- 
tion of his household; it hired and trained his servants, superintended 
his food and controlled all access to his person. 56 He operated now 
not through the normal government or party organs but through his 
personal secretariat, an outgrowth of the old party Secretariat; and 
through this he created a personal secret police within the official 
one, called the Special Secret Political Department of State 
Security. 57 Thus cocooned, he felt himself invulnerable; certainly 
others did. Though the state of Russia was so desperate in 1932 that 
Stalin's regime came near to foundering, as had Lenin's early in 
1921, no one came even near to killing him. 

As for the planning, held up as a model to the world, it was in all 
essentials a paper exercise. None of its figures have ever been 
independently verified, from 1928 to this day. The non- 
governmental auditing controls, which are an essential part of every 
constitutional state under the rule of law, do not exist in the Soviet 
Union. There was something fishy about the First Five Year Plan 
from the start. It was approved by the Central Committee in 
November 1928, formally adopted in May 1929, and then declared 
retrospectively operative since October 1928! Since from the end of 
1929 the entire country was turned upside down by the sudden 
decision to collectivize agriculture, the 1928 Plan (assuming it ever 
existed in fact) was rendered totally irrelevant. Yet in January 1933, 
the month Hitler came to power, Stalin suddenly announced it had 
been completed in four-and-a-half years, with 'maximum over- 
fulfilment' in many respects. 58 

The Plan, held up to sophisticated Western society as a model of 
civilized process, was in fact a barbarous fantasy. Russia is a rich 
country, with a wealth and variety of raw materials unparalleled 
anywhere else in the world. The Soviet regime inherited an expan- 
ding population and a rapidly growing industrial base. As Wilhel- 
mine Germany had surmised, nothing could stop Russia becoming 
one of the greatest, soon the greatest, industrial power on earth. The 
policies of Lenin and, still more, Stalin — or rather the series of hasty 
expedients which passed for policy — had the net effect of slowing 
down that inevitable expansion, just as Lenin-Stalin policies enor- 
mously, and in this case permanently, damaged Russia's flourishing 


But progress was made nonetheless. Great projects were com- 
pleted. There was the Dnieper Dam of 1932; the Stalingrad tractor 
factory; the Magnitogorsk steel plant in the Urals; the Kuznetsk 
Basin mines of Siberia; the Baltic-White Sea Canal; and many 
others. Some of them, such as the canal, were built wholly or in part 
by slave labour. As we have seen, the use of political slaves had been 
part of the Lenin regime - though initially a small part - from its first 
months. Under Stalin the system expanded, first slowly, then with 
terrifying speed. Once forced collectivization got under way, in 
1930—3, the concentration camp population rose to 10 million, and 
after the beginning of 1933 it never fell below this figure until well 
after Stalin's death. Among industries which regularly employed 
slave-labour on a large scale were gold-mining, forestry, coal, 
industrial agriculture and transport - especially the building of 
canals, railways, airports and roads. The ogpu negotiated slave- 
labour deals with various government agencies in exactly the same 
manner that the Nazi ss were later to hire such labour to Krupps, 
I.G.Farben and other German firms. For the big Baltic-White Sea 
Canal, one of Stalin's showpieces, 300,000 slaves were used. 59 Slave- 
labour ceased to be marginal, as in Lenin's time, and became an 
important and integral part of the Stalinist economy, with the ogpu 
administering large areas of Siberia and Central Asia. 60 

The death-rate in totalitarian slave-labour camps appears to have 
been about 10 per cent a year, to judge from German figures. 61 It 
may have been higher in Russia because so many of the camps were 
located within the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. At all events the 
need to keep the slave-labour force supplied was undoubtedly one of 
the main reasons for the countless arrests of non-party workers 
during the years 1929-33. Periodically there were carefully staged 
show-trials, such as the Menshevik trial in March 1931, or the 
Metro -Vickers engineers trial in April 1933. These highly publicized 
events, which revealed in elaborate detail the existence of a series of 
diabolical conspiracies, each a small part of one gigantic conspiracy 
against the regime and the Russian people, were needed to create the 
xenophobia and hysteria without which the Stalinist state could not 
hang together at all. But of course they were only a tiny fraction of 
the process, the public rationale for arrests and disappearances 
taking place all over the country on an unprecedented scale. 

Most 'trials' were not reported, although they often involved large 
groups of people, classified together according to occupation. Many 
were never tried at all. The arbitrary nature of the arrests was 
essential to create the climate of fear which, next to the need for 
labour, was the chief motive for the non-party terror. An ogpu man 
admitted to the Manchester Guardian Moscow correspondent that 


innocent people were arrested: naturally — otherwise no one would 
be frightened. If people, he said, were arrested only for specific 
misdemeanours, all the others would feel safe and so become ripe 
for treason. 62 But this apart, there seems to have been no pattern of 
logic or sense in many instances. An old Bolshevik recounts the case 
of an energy expert who, over eighteen months, was arrested, 
sentenced to death, pardoned, sent to a camp, released, rehabili- 
tated and finally given a medal, all for no apparent reason. 63 But 
the overwhelming majority of those arrested spent the rest of their 
lives in the camps. 

In the outside world, the magnitude of the Stalin tyranny — or 
indeed its very existence - was scarcely grasped at all. Most of 
those who travelled to Russia were either businessmen, anxious to 
trade and with no desire to probe or criticize what did not concern 
them, or intellectuals who came to admire and, still more, to 
believe. If the decline of Christianity created the modern political 
zealot - and his crimes - so the evaporation of religious faith among 
the educated left a vacuum in the minds of Western intellectuals 
easily filled by secular superstition. There is no other explanation 
for the credulity with which scientists, accustomed to evaluat- 
ing evidence, and writers, whose whole function was to study and 
criticize society, accepted the crudest Stalinist propaganda at its face 
value. They needed to believe; they wanted to be duped. 64 Thus, 
Amabel Williams-Ellis wrote an introduction to a book about the 
building of the White Sea Canal, later so harrowingly described by 
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, which contains the sentence: 'This tale of 
accomplishment of a ticklish engineering job, in the middle of 
primaeval forests, by tens of thousands of enemies of the state, 
helped - or should it be guarded? - by only thirty-seven ogpu 
officers, is one of the most exciting stories that has ever appeared in 
print.' Sidney and Beatrice Webb said of the same project: 'It is 
pleasant to think that the warmest appreciation was officially 
expressed of the success of the ogpu, not merely in performing a 
great engineering feat, but in achieving a triumph in humari regen- 
eration.' Harold Laski praised Soviet prisons for enabling convicts 
to lead 'a full and self-respecting life'; Anna Louise Strong re- 
corded: 'The labour camps have won a high reputation throughout 
the Soviet Union as places where tens of thousands of men have 
been reclaimed.' 'So well-known and effective is the Soviet method 
of remaking human beings', she added, 'that criminals occasionally 
now apply to be admitted.' Whereas in Britain, wrote George 
Bernard Shaw, a man enters prison a human being and emerges a 
criminal type, in Russia he entered 'as a criminal type and would 
come out an ordinary man but for the difficulty of inducing him to 


come out at all. As far as I could make out they could stay as long as they 
liked.' 65 

The famine of 1932, the worst in Russian history, was virtually 
unreported. At the height of it, the visiting biologist Julian Huxley 
found 'a level of physique and general health rather above that to be 
seen in England'. Shaw threw his food supplies out of the train window 
just before crossing the Russian frontier 'convinced that there were no 
shortages in Russia'. 'Where do you see any food shortage?' he asked, 
glancing round the foreigners-only restaurant of the Moscow Metro- 
pole. 66 He wrote: 'Stalin has delivered the goods to an extent that 
seemed impossible ten years ago, and I take off my hat to him 
accordingly.' But Shaw and his travelling companion, Lady Astor, 
knew of the political prisoners, since the latter asked Stalin for clemency 
on behalf of a woman who wished to join her husband in America 
(Stalin promptly handed her over to the ogpu) and she asked him, 
'How long are you going to go on killing people?' When he replied 'As 
long as necessary', she changed the subject and asked him to find her a 
Russian nurserymaid for her children. 67 

Estimates of Stalin written in the years 1929-34 make curious 
reading. H. G. Wells said he had 'never met a man more candid, fair and 
honest. . .no one is afraid of him and everybody trusts him'. The Webbs 
argued that he had less power than an American president and was 
merely acting on the orders of the Central Committee and the 
Presidium. Hewlett Johnson, Dean of Canterbury, described him as 
leading 'his people down new and unfamiliar avenues of democracy'. 
The American Ambassador, Joseph E. Davies, reported him as having 
'insisted on the liberalization of the constitution' and 'projecting actual 
secret and universal suffrage'. 'His brown eye is exceedingly wise and 
gentle,' he wrote. 'A child would like to sit on his lap and a dog would 
sidle up to him.' Emil Ludwig, the famous popular biographer, found 
him a man 'to whose care I would readily confide the education of my 
children'. The physicist J.D.Bernal paid tribute both to his 'deeply 
scientific approach to all problems' and to his 'capacity for feeling'. He 
was, said the Chilean writer Pablo Neruda, 'a good-natured man of 
principle'; 'a man of kindly geniality', echoed the Dean. 68 

Some of these tributes can be variously explained by corruption, 
vanity or sheer folly. Davies, who consistently misrepresented the 
nature of Stalin's Russia to his government, was being in effect bribed 
by the Soviet regime, who allowed him to buy icons and chalices for his 
collection at below-market prices. 69 Anna Louise Strong was well 
described by Malcolm Muggeridge as 'an enormous woman with a very 
red face, a lot of white hair, and an expression of stupidity so 
overwhelming that it amounted to a kind of strange beauty'. 70 
Self-delusion was obviously the biggest single factor in the presentation 


of an unsuccessful despotism as a Utopia in the making. But there 
was also conscious deception by men and women who thought of 
themselves as idealists and who, at the time, honestly believed they 
were serving a higher human purpose by systematic misrepresenta- 
tion and lying. If the Great War with its unprecedented violence 
brutalized the world, the Great Depression corrupted it by appearing 
to limit the options before humanity and presenting them in garishly 
contrasting terms. Political activists felt they had to make terrible 
choices and, having made them, stick to them with desperate 
resolution. The Thirties was the age of the heroic lie. Saintly 
mendacity became its most prized virtue. Stalin's tortured Russia was 
the prime beneficiary of this sanctified falsification. The competition 
to deceive became more fierce when Stalinism acquired a mortal rival 
in Hitler's Germany. 

There was, indeed, an element of deception right at the heart of 
this rivalry between the Communist and fascist forms of totalitarian- 
ism. They were organically linked in the process of historical 
development. Just as the war had made Lenin's violent seizure of 
power possible, and German 'War Socialism' had given him an 
economic policy, so the very existence of the Leninist state, with its 
one-party control of all aspects of public life and its systematized 
moral relativism, offered a model to all those who hated the liberal 
society, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. It inspired 
imitation and it generated fear; and those who feared it most were 
most inclined to imitate its methods in constructing defensive 
counter-models of their own. Totalitarianism of the Left bred 
totalitarianism of the Right; Communism and fascism were the 
hammer and the anvil on which liberalism was broken to pieces. The 
emergence of Stalin's autocracy changed the dynamic of corruption 
not in kind but in degree. For Stalin 'was but old Lenin writ large'. 
The change in degree nonetheless was important because of its sheer 
scale. The arrests, the prisons, the camps, the scope, the brutality and 
violence of the social engineering — nothing like it had ever been seen 
or even imagined before. So the counter-model became more mon- 
strously ambitious; and the fear which energized its construction 
more intense. If Leninism begot the fascism of Mussolini, it was 
Stalinism which made possible the Nazi Leviathan. 

Hitler emerged from the Landsberg prison at the end of 1924 at 
almost exactly the same moment that Stalin completed the political 
destruction of Trotsky and established himself in a commanding 
position at the head of the Leninist state. The two events were 
connected, for Hitler now realized that he could not storm the 
Weimar state by force but would have to infiltrate it by creating a 
mass party; and the lengthening shadow of Stalin was an essential 


ally in this task. It was the Communist state of 1919 which first gave 
Hitler his base in Bavaria, bringing together in a unity of fear the 
'black' Catholic separatists and the 'brown' radical-nationalists of 
Captain Roehm's private army. The core of the party was Bavarian, 
as well as an important group of Baltic refugees from Leninism living 
in Bavaria. 71 But to take power Hitler had to break out of the 
Bavarian enclave and move into the industrial north. In 1925 he 
formed an alliance with Gregor Strasser, a radical demagogue who, 
with his gifted lieutenant Joseph Goebbels, preached his own brand 
of socialist revolution to the working class. Hitler persuaded Strasser 
to transform his idea of a specifically 'German revolution', with its 
anti-capitalist but nationalist aims, into an 'anti-Jewish revolution', 
which had a broader middle-class appeal. 72 It was Strasser and 
Goebbels who first established Nazism as a broad movement in the 
north. But at the Bamberg Conference in 1926 Hitler was able to 
assert his supremacy in the party and Goebbels transferred his 

During the years 1925-9, the best years of Weimar, when Ger- 
many was enjoying an industrial revival which came close to pre-war 
levels and there were no economic factors working in his favour, 
Hitler established himself as a brilliant and innovatory speaker, a 
hard-working party organizer and an authoritarian leader of terrify- 
ing will-power. As with Leninism, the organization was to become 
the basis of control once power was assumed. Hitler divided the 
country into thirty-four Gaue, based on electoral districts, each with 
a Gauleiter - whom he chose personally - and with seven additional 
Gaue for Danzig, the Saar, Austria and the Sudetenland, the objects 
of the first wave of future expansion. His party, like Lenin's, was 
highly centralized - in himself, in effect - but it was also 'participa- 
tory', as was his future regime: so there was a Hitler Youth, a Nazi 
Schoolchildren's League, a Union of Nazi Lawyers, a Students' 
League, a Nazi Teachers' Association, an Order of German Women, 
a Nazi Physicians' League and scores of other societies. Hitler's 
method was always to deny his followers any real share in decisions 
but to give them endless scope for furious activity (including 

The violence came in increasing measure as Stalinism established 
itself in the international Communist movement and the once highly 
intellectual party of Rosa Luxemburg left the study and took to the 
streets. There, gleefully, the sa Brownshirts of Roehm joined them in 
bloody battles from which both parties derived benefit. The Com- 
munists used the violence to erode the Social Democrats (whom they 
called 'Social Fascists' and treated as the real enemy), presented by 
them as too weak and 'reformist' to stand up to the naked power of 


the Right. But the Nazis were bound to be the ultimate gainers 
because, while using violence, they posed as the defenders of 'Aryan 
order', with Weimar being too weak to uphold it effectively, and as 
the only force in Germany capable of exorcizing the 'Red Terror' and 
giving innocent citizens the peace of real authority. It was the 
constant street warfare which prevented the Weimar Republicans 
from deriving any permanent benefit from the boom years. Those 
who rejected alike a Stalinist-type tyranny and a liberal-capitalist 
state which could not provide national self-respect or even elemen- 
tary security were always looking for a 'third way'. That, signifi- 
cantly, was the original title of Bruck's book The Third Reich. In the 
late 1920s 'third way' men included such influential figures as Carl 
Schmitt, Germany's leading jurist, who was in no way a Nazi but 
who argued and pleaded in a long series of widely read books that 
Germany must have a more authoritative constitution and system of 
government. 73 Another was Oswald Spengler, whose 'third way' 
embodied the Fuhrerprinzip of authority, the Fuhrer being a repre- 
sentative member of the race of the Volk, marked out by his 
charismatic leadership. 74 Once Hitler established himself as a major 
public figure, he and his party fitted this specification more closely 
than any other contender, especially after the rise of Stalin. Spengler 
had warned about the new epoch: 'It would be an age of cruel wars 
in which new Caesars would rise and an elite of steely men, who did 
not look for personal gain and happiness but for the execution of 
duties towards the community, would replace the democrats and 
humanitarians.' 75 The age had come: did not the very name 'Stalin' 
mean 'steel'; where was Germany's 'steely man'? 

Weimar Germany was a very insecure society; it needed and never 
got a statesman who inspired national confidence. Bismarck had 
cunningly taught the parties not to aim at national appeal but to 
represent interests. They remained class or sectional pressure-groups 
under the Republic. This was fatal, for it made the party system, and 
with it democratic parliamentarianism, seem a divisive rather than a 
unifying factor. Worse: it meant the parties never produced a leader 
who appealed beyond the narrow limits of his own following. The 
Social Democrats, that worthy but dull and obstinate body, were 
most to blame. They might have created an unassailable Left— Centre 
block by dropping their nationalization and taxation schemes; but 
they refused to do so, fearing to lose ground on the Left to the 

Only two Weimar politicians had multi-party appeal. One was 
Gustav Stresemann, Foreign Minister 1923-9, whose death at the 
age of fifty-one was a milestone to Hitler's victory. The other was 
Konrad Adenauer, Mayor of Cologne. By a tragic irony, Stresemann 


destroyed Adenauer's chances. City administration, drawing on the 
solid bourgeois traditions of the medieval past, was the only successful 
political institution in Germany. Adenauer ran the most highly rated 
municipal administration in the country with the help of the Socialists. 
In 1926, when he was fifty, he was asked to form a governing coalition 
on similar lines. He was later to show himself one of the ablest and most 
authoritative democratic statesmen of the twentieth century, skilfully 
mixing low cunning and high principle. It is more than likely he could 
have made the Weimar system work, especially since he would have 
taken it over at what, from an economic viewpoint, was the best 
possible moment. But Adenauer was a strong 'Westerner', some said a 
Rhineland separatist, who wished to tie Germany firmly to the civilized 
democracies of Western Europe, and in particular to bring about what 
he secretly described as 'a lasting peace between France and Germany 
. . . through the establishment of a community of economic interests'. 
Stresemann, however, was an 'Easterner', true to the then predominant 
German belief in the Primat der Aussenpolitik. Working through Ernst 
Scholtz, leader of the People's Party, and much helped by Marshal 
Pilsudski's establishment of a fierce military dictatorship in Poland, 
which occurred during the crisis, Stresemann successfully torpedoed 
Adenauer's bid to form a coalition including the Socialists. So his 
opportunity, which might have radically changed the entire course of 
history, was missed; and Hitler, the greatest 'Easterner' of them all, was 
the beneficiary. 76 

Weimar prosperity, 1924-9, was not as impressive as it seemed to 
some. The British cigs, to judge by his reports, was terrified of 
Germany's growing industrial strength. 77 The inflation had cleared 
German industry's load of debt, and during the second half of the 1 920s 
Benjamin Strong's bank-inflation had provided the Ruhr with huge 
quantities of American investment finance. German exports doubled in 
the five years after 1924. Production passed the pre-war level in 1927 
and by 1929 it was 12 per cent higher per capita, Germany was 
investing a net 12 per cent of income. 78 But even in the best year incomes 
in real terms were 6 per cent below pre-war levels. Unemployment was 
high too. It was 18.1 per cent in 1926, dropped to 8.8 and 8.4 for the 
next two years, then passed the 3 million mark again in the winter of 
1928—9, reaching over 13 per cent long before the Wall Street crash 
brought to an end cheap American finance. After the Smoot-Hawley 
tariff it quickly jumped to well over 20 per cent: it was 33.7 per cent in 
1931 and an appalling 43.7 per cent at one point in 1932. That winter 
there were over 6 million permanently unemployed. 79 

Hitler was put into power by fear. In the 1928 elections the Nazi 
deputies fell from fourteen to twelve and he only got 2.8 per cent of the 
vote. Yet this election marked the turning-point for him, for it brought a 


huge surge in Left, and especially Communist, support and thus 
created the climate of fear in which he could flourish. By 1929 his 
party had 120,000 members; by the summer of 1930 300,000; and 
by early 1932 almost 800,000. The sa grew too, numbering half a 
million by the end of 1932. 80 At each stage, Hitler's support among 
the student and academic population rose first, then was followed by 
a general increase. By 1930 he had captured the student movement; 
the recruitment of graduates was also a function of unemployment - 
the universities turned out 25,000 a year, adding to a total of 
400,000, of whom 60,000 were officially registered as unemployed. 
In 1933 one in every three of the Akademiker was out of a job. 81 

By 1929 Hitler was respectable enough to be taken into partner- 
ship by Alfred Hugenberg, the industrialist and leader of the 
Nationalist Right, who thought he could use the Nazis on his road to 
power. The effect was to give Hitler access to business finance, and 
thereafter he never lacked money. The party system was visibly 
failing. After the 1928 election it took a year to form a government. 
In 1930 the Centre Party leader, Heinrich Bruning, tried to invoke 
Article 48 to rule by Presidential decree, and when the Reichstag 
refused he dissolved it. As a result, the Nazis with 107 seats and the 
Communists with 77 became the second and third largest parties in 
the Reichstag. Bruning, terrified of inflation, deflated vigorously, 
thus helping both Nazis and Communists, and in the second half of 
1931 the international monetary system, and the era of economic 
co-operation, came to a startling end. Britain, followed by seventeen 
other countries, went off the gold standard. The tariff barriers went 
up everywhere. It was now every country for itself. America went 
completely isolationist for the first time. Britain retreated into 
protection and Imperial preference. Germany chose the weird combi- 
nation of savage government cuts to keep up the value of the mark, 
with decree-laws which fixed wages and prices and gave the govern- 
ment control of banking policy and through it of industry. As a 
result, Bruning forfeited the confidence of German industry. There 
began serious talk of bringing Hitler into some kind of right-wing 
coalition. Roehm held secret talks with General Kurt von Schleicher, 
the political head of the army. Hitler met Hindenburg for the first 
time, after which the President said that, while he would not make 
'this Bohemian corporal' Chancellor, he might employ him as 
Postmaster-General. 82 

Both Left and Right totally underestimated Hitler, right up to the 
second he stepped into the Chancellery. As we have seen, the Left 
was dependent on an antiquated Marxist-Leninist system of analysis 
which was pre-fascist and therefore made no provision for it. The 
Communists thought Hitler was a mere excrescence on capitalism, 


and therefore a puppet of Hugenberg and Schleicher, themselves 
manipulated by Krupp and Thyssen. 83 Under the influence of Stalin, 
the German cp at this time made no real distinction between the 
Social Democrats ('Social Fascists') and Hitler. Their leader, Ernst 
Thalmann, told the Reichstag on 11 February 1930 that fascism was 
already in power in Germany, when the head of the government was 
a Social Democrat. Their principal intellectual organ, the Links- 
kurve, virtually ignored the Nazis, as did the only real Communist 
film, Kuhle Wampe (1932). The only notice the Communists usually 
took of the Nazis was to fight them in the streets, which was exactly 
what Hitler wanted. There was something false and ritualistic about 
these encounters, as Christopher Isherwood noted: 'In the middle of 
a crowded street a young man would be attacked, stripped, thrashed 
and left bleeding on the pavement; in fifteen seconds it was all over 
and the assailants had disappeared.' 84 In the Reichstag, Thalmann 
and Goering combined to turn debates into riots. Sometimes colla- 
boration went further. During the November 1932 Berlin transport 
strike thugs from the Red Front and the Brownshirts worked 
together to form mass picket-lines, beat up those who reported for 
work, and tear up tramlines. 85 One of the reasons why the army 
recommended the Nazis be brought into the government was that 
they thought they could not cope with Communist and Nazi 
paramilitary forces at the same time, especially if the Poles attacked 
too. Blinded by their absurd political analysis, the Communists 
actually wanted a Hitler government, believing it would be a farcical 
affair, the prelude to their own seizure of power. 

The Right shared the same illusion that Hitler was a lightweight, a 
ridiculous Austrian demagogue whose oratorical gifts they could 
exploit — 1932 was his annus mirabilis when he made his finest 
speeches - while 'managing' and 'containing' him. 'If the Nazis did 
not exist,' Schleicher claimed in 1932, 'it would be necessary to 
invent them.' 86 In fact the exploitation was all the other way round. 
The events immediately preceding Hitler's accession to power are 
curiously reminiscent of Lenin's rise - albeit the first used the law 
and the second demolished it - in that they both show how 
irresistible is clarity of aim combined with a huge, ruthless will to 
power. Schleicher, seeking to separate Hitler from his thugs, had had 
the sa banned. In May 1932 he got Briining turned out and replaced 
by his own candidate, the slippery diplomat Franz von Papen. 
Hoping to get Hitler's co-operation, Papen lifted the ban on the sa 
and called fresh elections. Hitler gave him nothing in return and 
denounced his government as 'the cabinet of the barons'. On 17 July 
he provoked a riot in Altona, and Papen used this as an excuse to 
take over the Prussian state government, with its police force, the last 


remaining Social-Democratic stronghold. He thought by this act to 
strengthen the hand of central government, but in fact it marked the 
end of the Weimar Republic and directly prepared the way for a 
government of illegality. 

At the elections, Hitler doubled his vote to 37.2 per cent, and he 
and the Communists now held more than half the seats in the 
Reichstag. When Hindenburg refused to make him Chancellor, Hitler 
sent his men into the streets, and on 10 August five stormtroopers 
beat to death a Communist Party worker in front of his family. Hitler 
wrote an article justifying the murder and making it perfectly clear 
what a Nazi government meant. At yet another election in November 
the Nazi vote fell to 33 per cent, but the big gainers were the 
Communists, who now had 100 seats (the Nazis 196) in the 
Reichstag, so the result, paradoxically, was to make the Right more 
anxious to get Hitler into the government. Schleicher replaced Papen 
as Chancellor, hoping to tame the Nazis by splitting the Strasser 
wing (by now unimportant) from Hitler himself. The effect was to 
goad Papen into intriguing with Hindenburg to form a Papen-Hitler 
coalition, with General Werner von Blomberg brought in as Defence 
Minister as further 'containment'. The details of this manoeuvre are 
exceedingly complicated — a totentanz or 'dance of death' — but the 
essence is simple: on one side shifting and divided aims, and an 
inability to focus on the real essentials of power; on the other, an 
unwavering aim and a firm grasp of realities. 

After two days of Byzantine negotiations, Hitler emerged as 
Chancellor on 30 January 1933. There were only three Nazis in a 
cabinet of twelve, and Hitler was thought to be further boxed in by 
Blomberg on the one side of him, and his 'pupper-master', Hugen- 
berg, on the other. But Hitler, Goering and Frick, the three Nazi 
ministers, had the three posts that mattered: the Chancellorship, 
with permission to use Article 48; the Prussian Ministry of the 
Interior; and the National Interior Ministry. Apart from the army, 
the only force in the country capable of handling the half-million 
Brownshirts was the Prussian police. This had already been taken out 
of the hands of the Social Democrats, and was now given to Goering! 
Blomberg could not be expected to fight both. As for Hugenberg, he 
had been secretly betrayed by Papen, who had agreed that Hitler 
should have new elections (which he could now manage), certain to 
cut Hugenberg down to size. 87 

30 January 1933, therefore, was a point of no return, for Germany 
and indeed for the world. As Goebbels remarked, 'If we have the 
power we'll never give it up again unless we're carried out of our 
offices as corpses.' 88 The moment he set foot in the Chancellery Hitler 
acted with the same speed as Lenin in October 1917. He immediately 


moved 25,000 men into the ministerial quarter of Berlin. That night 
a massed torchlight parade of his men took place, marching through 
the Brandenburg Gate and in front of the Chancellery for nearly six 
hours, while Hitler's own police 'specials' kept a vast, cheerful crowd 
in order. At one of the illuminated windows, the excited figure of 
Hitler could be seen. At another was the impassive shape of 
Hindenburg, the Wooden Titan, pounding his cane in time to the 
military beat of the band. 89 

The crowd was cheerful because politics were unpopular with 
most Germans and Hitler had promised to end them and substitute a 
one-party state. The great theme of his speeches throughout the 
previous year was that 'politicians had ruined the Reich'. Now he 
would use politics to wage war on politicians, his election was an 
election to end elections, his party a party to end parties: 'I tell all 
these sorry politicians, "Germany will become one single party, the 
party of a great, heroic nation."' What he was proposing was a 
revolution for stability, a revolt against chaos, a legal putsch for 
unity. As such he was in a powerful German tradition. Wagner had 
presented politics as an immoral, non-German activity. Thomas 
Mann had denounced 'the terrorism of politics'. 90 Hitler offered 
what the Marxist writer Walter Benjamin called 'the aestheticization 
of polities', the art without the substance. In 1919 the Surrealists had 
called for a 'government of artists'. Now they had one. Of the Nazi 
bosses, Hitler was not the only 'Bohemian', as Hindenburg put it. 
Funk wrote music, Baldar von Schirach and Hans Frank poetry, 
Goebbels novels; Rosenberg was an architect, Dietrich Eckart a 
painter. Hitler gave the Germans the unifying side of public life: 
spectacle, parades, speeches and ceremony; the divisive side, the 
debates, voting and decision-making, was either abolished com- 
pletely or conducted by a tiny elite in secret. The parade on 
30 January was a foretaste of the first, which Hitler did better than 
anyone else and which was the first aspect of his regime Stalin began 
to imitate. 

The second began the next morning with Goering's take-over of 
the Prussian state machine, marked by massive changes in personnel, 
especially of senior police-officers, and the issue of orders for the 
rapid expansion of the state Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo) under 
Nazi officers. Four days later Hitler issued a decree, using his powers 
under Article 48, 'For the Protection of the German People', which 
gave the government complete discretion in banning public meetings 
and newspapers. On 22 February Goering created an additional 
'auxiliary police', 50,000 strong, composed entirely from Nazi units. 
The idea was to break up any non-Nazi organizations capable of 
resisting. As he put it: 'My measures will not be qualified by legal 


scruples or by bureaucracy. It is not my business to do justice. It is 
my business to annihilate and exterminate — that's all!' He said to his 
police: 'Whoever did his duty in the service of the state, whoever 
obeyed my orders and took severe measures against the enemy of the 
state, whoever ruthlessly made use of his revolver when attacked, 
could be certain of protection .... If one calls this murder, then I am 
a murderer.' 91 

Goering's task was made much easier by the burning of the 
Reichstag on 28 February, now generally seen as indeed the work of 
the feeble-minded Martinus van der Lubbe, but in any event mighty 
convenient to the new regime. The same day Hitler put through the 
Emergency Decree of 28 February 1933, 'For the Protection of the 
People and the State', supplemented by another 'Against Betrayal of 
the German People and Treasonable Machinations'. They formed 
the real basis of Nazi rule, since they enabled the police to bypass the 
courts completely. 92 The key passage reads: 

Articles 114-18, 123—4 and 153 of the Constitution of the German Reich 
are for the time being nullified. Consequently, curbs on personal liberty, on 
the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press, of 
associations, and of assembly, surveillance over letters, telegrams and 
telephone communications, searches of homes and confiscations of as well 
as restrictions on property, are hereby permissible beyond the limits 
hitherto established by law. 

This decree gave Hitler everything he needed to set up a totalita- 
rian state and was indeed the basis of his rule, remaining in force 
until 1945. But following the elections of 5 March, which gave the 
Nazis 43.9 per cent of the votes (288 seats), Hitler brought in an 
Enabling Act, which he got debated and passed by the Reichstag 
(sitting temporarily in the Kroll Opera House, surrounded by sa and 
ss units) on 23 March. The first article transferred the right to 
legislate from the Reichstag to the administration, the second gave 
the latter power to make constitutional changes, the third passed the 
right to draft laws from the president to the chancellor, the fourth 
extended the act to treaties and the fifth limited it to four years (it 
was extended in 1937, 1941 and again in 1943). It was, in effect, an 
act for the abolition of the constitution and legal government - and 
Hitler never saw the need, or took the trouble, to replace the old 
Weimar Constitution with one of his own. It really added nothing to 
the 28 February decree, except in a metaphysical sense. It was 
actually debated, the only political debate Hitler as ruler ever 
allowed, just like Lenin with the solitary meeting of the Provisional 
Assembly. The parallels are almost uncanny, except that Hitler, 
unlike Lenin, took part in the debate himself - furiously retorting to 


a speech on behalf of the Social Democrats, who opposed the bill 
(twenty-six of them and eighty-one Communists were already under 
arrest or in flight). But the Right and Centre parties voted for the 
bill, which was carried 441—94, so this act of abdication marked 
the moral death of a republic which had died in law already on 
28 February. 

Resistance was feeble or non-existent. Some of the Communist 
leaders, who only a few weeks before had believed Hitler's entry 
into office would be an ephemeral prelude to their own triumph, 
were simply murdered. Others fled to Russia where the same fate 
soon awaited them. The great mass of the Communist rank-and-file 
humbly submitted and nothing more was heard of them. The 
unions surrendered without the least hint of a struggle. On 10 May 
the Social Democrats, insisting that the Nazis were merely 'the last 
card of reaction', allowed all their property and newspapers to be 
taken from them. A week later their deputies actually voted for 
Hitler's foreign policy, so that Goering was able to declare: The 
world has seen that the German people are united where their fate 
is at stake.' In June all the non-Nazi parties of Right, Left and 
Centre, together with their paramilitaries, were declared dissolved. 
At the end of the month, Hugenberg, the great 'container' of Hitler, 
was ignominiously pitched out of his office. Finally in July the 
National Socialists were declared the only legal party. It had taken 
Hitler less than five months to destroy German democracy com- 
pletely, about the same time as Lenin. Not a soul stirred. As Robert 
Musil put it: 'The only ones who give the impression of absolutely 
refusing to accept it all - although they say nothing - are the 
servant-girls.' 93 

With the mature Soviet model to guide him, Hitler set up the 
apparatus of terror and the machinery of the police state even more 
quickly than Lenin - and soon on a scale almost as large as Stalin's. 
The initial agent in this endeavour was Goering, using the Prussian 
police and his newly created Gestapo of sa and ss men, operating 
from its Berlin hq on Prinz Albrechtstrasse. It was Goering who 
destroyed the Communist Party in the space of a few weeks by a 
policy of murder — 'A bullet fired from the barrel of a police-pistol 
is my bullet' was the assurance he gave his men — or internment in 
the concentration camps he began setting up in March. The breath- 
taking brutality of Goering's campaign, conducted without the 
slightest regard for legality, goes a long way to explain the silence 
or compliance of those groups who might have been expected to 
oppose the new regime. They were simply afraid. It was known that 
people the Nazis disliked simply disappeared without trace: mur- 
dered, tortured to death, buried in a camp. All opposition was 


enveloped in the blanket of fear, and that was precisely the effect 
Goering wished to create. Hitler praised his work as 'brutal and 
ice-cold'. 94 

It was Hitler's custom, however, to duplicate or double-bank all 
his agencies, so that he could back one against another, if need be, 
and rule through division. He had never quite trusted the sa, now a 
million strong, which was Roehm's creation. After his release from 
Landsberg he had created, from within the sa, a personal bodyguard 
of Schutzstaffel (ss), or security units. In 1929, when the black- 
shirted ss numbered 290, Hitler entrusted it to the twenty-nine-year- 
old Heinrich Himmler, the well-connected son of a former tutor to 
the Bavarian royal family. Despite his prim appearance and habits 
(his diaries record when he shaved, took a bath or had a haircut, and 
he kept all receipts and ticket stubs), Himmler was a Freikorps thug 
and violent anti-Semite, who wore his rimless pince-nez even when 
duelling. He had been a surveyor of the secret arms dumps hidden in 
the countryside to deceive the Allied Control Commission, and his 
army and social connections allowed him to raise the tone of the ss 
above that of the sa. Some of its unit commanders were noblemen. It 
included many doctors. Senior civil servants and industrialists were 
among its honorary members. Himmler, unlike Roehm, would not 
recruit the unemployed. 95 

With Hitler's encouragement, Himmler expanded the ss rapidly, 
so that it numbered 52,000 at his accession to power. Hitler's 
personal ss guard, the Leibstandarte, was a whole division. Himmler 
was never one of Hitler's intimates. He was treated as a functionary 
who could be filled with the loyalty of awe and terror; and it is a 
curious fact that Himmler, the one man who could have destroyed 
Hitler, feared him right to the end. Hitler regarded the ss as his own 
instrument of power, and he gave it special tasks. From 1931 it had a 
Race and Settlement Office, charged with practical applications of 
Nazi race theory, keeping stud books of party members and the 
drawing up of race-laws. The ss thus became the natural instrument 
to carry through Hitler's gigantic eastern extermination and set- 
tlement policy when the time came. At the same time, Himmler 
recruited a former naval officer, Reinhard Heydrich, whom he saw 
as the ideal Aryan type, to take charge of a new security and 
intelligence service, the Sicherheitsdienst (sd), which Hitler instructed 
him to set up to watch Roehm's sa. 

Hence, when Hitler took power, Himmler was able quickly to 
expand his organization into a complete security system, with its 
own military units (the Waff en ss), and an organization called the 
Totenkopfverbande (Death's Head Units) to run concentration 
camps and for other special duties. The last included many criminals, 


such as Adolf Eichmann and Rudolf Hess, who had already served a 
sentence for murder. 96 Himmler's initial job was merely as police 
chief in Munich, and he required the permission of the Catholic 
Prime Minister of Bavaria, Heinrich Held, to set up his first 
concentration camp at Dachau, an announcement duly appearing in 
the press: 

On Wednesday 22 March 1933, the first concentration camp will be opened 
near Dachau. It will accommodate 5,000 prisoners. Planning on such a 
scale, we refuse to be influenced by any petty objection, since we are 
convinced this will reassure all those who have regard for the nation and 
serve their interests. 

Heinrich Himmler, 
Acting Police-President of the City of Munich. 97 

Himmler's earliest 'protective custody' orders read: 'Based on 
Article 1 of the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of 
People and the State of February 28 1933, you are taken into 
protective custody in the interests of public security and order. 
Reason: suspicion of activities inimical to the state.' Unlike Goering, 
Himmler, at this stage, showed himself anxious to observe the 
formalities of the Nazi state, such as they were. But the camp 
regulations he compiled indicated from the very start the horrifying 
comprehensiveness of the powers Himmler and his men enjoyed and 
the unrestricted use of terror: 

The term 'commitment to a concentration camp* is to be openly announced 
as 'until further notice' .... In certain cases the Reichfuhrer ss and the Chief 
of the German Police will order flogging in addition .... There is no 
objection to spreading the rumour of this increased punishment ... to add 
to the deterrent effect. The following offenders, considered as agitators, will 
be hanged: anyone who . . . makes inciting speeches, and holds meetings, 
forms cliques, loiters around with others; who for the purpose of supplying 
the propaganda of the opposition with atrocity stories, collects true or false 
information about the concentration camps. 98 

Himmler's impeccable bureaucratic paperwork and his genuflec- 
tions to legality (when he sent his aged parents for drives in his 
official car he always noted the cost and had it deducted from his 
salary") were fraudulent, as was the similar pseudo-legal framework 
under which the ogpu worked in Soviet Russia. Hans Gisevius, a 
Gestapo official, later testified: 'It was always a favourite ss tactic to 
appear in the guise of a respectable citizen and to condemn vigor- 
ously all excesses, lies or infringements of the law. Himmler . . . 
sounded like the stoutest crusader for decency, cleanliness and 
justice.' 100 He was anxious to distance his men from the ruffianly sa 


street- fighters and Goering's Gestapo. Inside the camps, however, 
there was no difference: all was unspeakable cruelty, often sadism, 
and the negation of law. 

A typical case-history, one of many thousands, was that of the 
Jewish poet Erich Muhsam. He had taken part in Eisner's reckless 
Bavarian Socialist Republic, and served six years in prison for it, 
being amnestied in 1924. Immediately after the Reichstag fire, 
fearing arrest, he had bought a ticket to Prague, but had then given it 
to another intellectual who was even more frightened than he was. 
He was pulled in and taken to Sonnenburg camp. They began by 
smashing his glasses, knocking out his teeth and tearing out chunks 
of his hair. They broke both his thumbs so he could not write, and 
beating about the ears destroyed his hearing. He was then moved to 
Cranienburg camp. There, in February 1934, the guards had posses- 
sion of a chimpanzee which they found in the home of an arrested 
Jewish scientist. Assuming it was fierce, they loosed it on Muhsam, 
but to their fury the creature simply flung its arms round his neck. 
They then tortured the animal to death in his presence. The object 
was to drive Muhsam to suicide. But he would not comply; so one 
night he was beaten to death and hanged from a beam in a latrine. 
Muhsam had become wise in the ways of totalitarianism, and before 
his arrest had given all his papers to his wife, with express instruc- 
tions on no account to go to Moscow. Unfortunately, she disobeyed 
him and took the papers with her; and as soon as the Soviet 
authorities got their hands on them they arrested her. She spent the 
next twenty years in Soviet camps as a 'Trotskyite agent', and the 
papers are to this day under lock and key in the so-called 'Gorky 
Institute for World Literature' in Moscow. 101 

The lawlessness of Hitler's Germany, beneath a thin veneer of legal 
forms, was absolute. As Goering put it, 'The law and the will of the 
Fuhrer are one.' Hans Frank: 'Our constitution is the will of the 
Fuhrer.' Hitler worked entirely through decrees and ordinances, as 
opposed to law, here again resembling Lenin, who never showed the 
slightest interest in constitution-making. 102 In any matters which 
were of interest to the Nazis, the Ministry of Justice did not function. 
Its boss Franz Guertner, who in 1924 as Bavarian Justice Minister 
had granted Hitler's early release, was a nonentity who claimed he 
stayed on to fight Hitlerism but in fact was never allowed to talk to 
Hitler on any subject except novels. Shortly before his death in 1941 
he told Frank: 'Hitler loves cruelty. It pleases him . . . when he can 
torment someone. He has a diabolical sadism. Otherwise he simply 
could not stand Himmler and Heydrich.' 103 Hitler himself said: 'It 
was only with the greatest difficulty that I was able to persuade Dr 
Guertner ... of the absolute necessity of exercising the utmost 


severity in cases of treason.' 104 But this was just talk. In fact Hitler 
frequently altered what he saw as 'lenient' sentences, imposing the 
death-penalty instead. He changed the 1933 Civil Service Law, adding 
paragraph 71, which empowered him to dismiss a judge if 'the manner 
of his official activities, in particular through his decisions . . . shows 
that he finds the National Socialist Weltanschauung alien' (an 
example cited was giving the minimum sentence for 'racial de- 
filement'). 105 

But Hitler did not even like removable or subservient judges. Like 
Marx and Lenin, he hated lawyers - 'a lawyer must be regarded as a 
man deficient by nature or deformed by experience', he said - and he 
eventually superimposed on the ordinary juridical system the Nazi 
'People's Courts', a Leninist device which achieved its sombre apogee 
under the ferocious Roland Freisler in 1944-5. 106 No protection 
against Nazi encroachments on the rule of law or civil liberties was 
ever offered by the Interior Minister, Wilhelm Frick, who was a Nazi 
himself. In 1930-2 Frick was seen by outsiders as second only to 
Hitler in the movement, but in fact he was a weak man and since his 
Ministry had lost actual control of the police, neither he nor it counted 
for anything. The only important contribution it made to Hitler's rule 
was the drafting (under Dr Hans Globke, later to serve Dr Adenauer) 
of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws for the Jews. It remains an argument to 
this day whether the code had the effect of diminishing the appalling 
acts of violence carried out against Jews by local Nazis, as Globke 
claimed, or whether it gave moral and legal authority to systematic 
persecution. 107 

The manner in which Hitler ran internal security, using three 
competing systems (ss, sa, and Goering's police and Gestapo) and 
two ministries which did not function on important matters, was 
characteristic. As the state had no constitution (other than the 
anaesthetized Weimar one) so it had no system of government. Or 
rather it had several. There was the party system of forty or so 
Gauleiters, a powerful collegiate body, whom Hitler could make or 
break individually but whom he did not choose to defy as a group. The 
Diisseldorf Gauleiter, Florian, claimed he had never invited Himmler 
into his Gau and had forbidden his men to co-operate with the 
Gestapo. The actual party leader, as Hitler's deputy, was Rudolph 
Hess. But Hess was an ineffectual mystic. More important was Martin 
Bormann, a convicted murderer and a hard-working, Stalin-like party 
bureaucrat, who waged constant battles against the Gauleiters, on the 
one hand, and Goering and Goebbels on the other. 108 

Hitler did not object to these internal battles; on the contrary, he 
promoted them. 'People must be allowed friction with one another,' 
he said. 'Friction produces warmth, and warmth is energy.' He called 


it 'institutionalized Darwinism'. If Hitler met resistance from any 
ministry, he created a duplicate. He called the Foreign Ministry, still 
stuffed with aristocrats, 'an intellectual garbage heap', and from 1933 
set up a rival organization under Joachim von Ribbentrop, which often 
stole the ministry's mail and answered it. 109 The Ministry of Labour, 
under Franz Seldte, was particularly obstructive. So Hitler appointed 
one of his Gauleiters, Fritz Sauckel, General Plenipotentiary for Work 
Mobilization. no Again, frustrated on the economic and financial front, 
Hitler created a duplicate economics ministry, called the Four Year 
Plan, under Goering. By 1942, in addition to the quota of ministries he 
had inherited from Weimar, Hitler had created fifty-eight Supreme 
Reich Boards, plus many other extra-governmental bureaux. Overlap- 
ping was universal and deliberate. It suited Hitler that Ribbentrop and 
Goebbels, for instance, should fight each over for control of external 
propaganda, down to the point where their men had pitched battles 
over radio equipment. Then both would appeal to him to arbitrate. 

Any authoritarian system which abandons constitutional pro- 
cedures and the rule of law is bound to contain an element of anarchy. 
Stalin's regime was not dissimilar, though he was more methodical than 
Hitler. The term 'Bohemian', which Hindenburg used of Hitler, was 
apt. He hated settled hours. After Hindenburg's death he combined the 
offices of Chancellor and President, and used this as an excuse to 
destroy the formal working of both. An old-fashioned civil servant 
called Dr Hans Lammers kept up a semblance of order in the 
Chancellery office, and he and his staff of ten to twelve Beamten 
answered Hitler's mail of about 600 letters a day. Hitler never seems to 
have written a letter or signed any official documents. As soon as he was 
in power he did his best to have all documents which mentioned him 
(including tax records) destroyed, and thereafter he was extraordi- 
narily reluctant to issue any written directives. About the only 
documentary holograph of Hitler's we possess dates from before the 
First World War. 

When Hitler first became Chancellor he got to his desk at 10 am, but 
he soon tired of routine and gradually took to working at night. He 
moved constantly around the country, like a medieval monarch, and 
even when in Berlin often refused to take decisions, claiming he was not 
a dictator. 111 He disliked cabinet meetings precisely because they were 
an orderly decision-making procedure. He held them at ever-growing 
intervals; even when they did take place, the really important business 
was done elsewhere. Thus when Hitler fired Hjalmar Schacht he 
appointed Walter Funk Minister of Economics during an interval at the 
opera, and introduced him without warning at the next cabinet meeting 
(4 February 1938), the last he ever held. 112 There is no doubt whatever 
that all important decisions were taken by Hitler personally, as a rule in 


bilateral meetings with individual ministers or bosses, but they are 
never reflected in the records, except indirectly. Hitler's orders were 
always oral, often emerging incidentally in the course of long 
harangues, and sometimes given on the spot to whoever happened to be 
around. 113 

Hitler's state was not corporatist because corporatism implies a 
distribution of power between different bodies, and Hitler would share 
power with no one. He did not mind senior members of the gang 
running little private empires, subject to his ultimate power to break 
them. But Lammers testified at Nuremberg that he would not allow 
them to meet together, even informally, so they were never able to 
resolve their differences in collegiate fashion. Hitler's regime, therefore, 
was marked by constant bilateral and multilateral struggles between its 
component parts, what Hobbes called 'a perpetual and restless desire 
for power after power, that ceaseth only in death'. 114 Goering tapped 
his colleagues' telephones from his 'research office' and acquired such 
useful treasures as a set of love-letters from Alfred Rosenberg to a 
comely Jewess. 115 Bormann spied on all. So, of course, did Himmler 
and Heydrich. Virtually everyone was in a position to blackmail 
everyone else, and as each sought to win Hitler's goodwill by betraying 
what he knew of the others, the Fuhrer was kept well informed. 

No government run in this fashion could hope to pursue consistent 
and carefully thought out policies, and Hitler naturally failed to do so, 
even on matters about which he felt most passionately. He promised to 
help small businesses, the peasants, the agricultural sector, to cut the big 
cities down to size, to bring womenfolk back from the factories into the 
home, to take back industry from the capitalists, the land from the 
Junkers, the army from the 'vons', the administration from the 
'Doktors\ He did none of these things. On the contrary: the cities, big 
business and industry flourished, and peasants and women continued 
to flock into the workshops. 116 Army, business, the civil service 
remained much the same. 

Even on Jewish policy, which to Hitler was the most important issue 
of all, there was inconsistency and hesitation. In the first flush of Nazi 
triumph, many Jews were murdered or put in camps, or stripped of their 
property by the sa and allowed to flee. Some Nazi leaders wanted a 
policy of enforced emigration, but no systematic and effective measures 
were ever taken to bring this about. Nor did Hitler smash the big Jewish 
department stores, something he had promised countless times to do: 
Schacht persuaded him that 90,000 jobs would thereby be lost. 117 The 
Economics Ministry opposed attacks on Jewish business chiefly 
because it believed they would lead to attacks on big business in general, 
and it set up a special bureau to stop Nazi harassment. 118 The 
Nuremberg Laws themselves were drawn up in a hurry. Hitler 


announced them as the 'final settlement of the position of the Jews'. 
In fact many ambiguities remained, even in his own mind. He 
authorized signs 'Jews Not Welcome' outside towns, which were 
theoretically illegal, but conceded Jews could not actually be forbid- 
den to enter. In 1936 the Interior Ministry even discussed banning 
Der Sturmer, the anti-Semitic Nazi paper. Anti-Semitism became 
more violent in 1938, probably because Hitler was adopting a more 
isolationist economic policy. The Interior Ministry produced the 
'name decree', obliging all Jews to adopt Israel or Sarah as a middle 
name. 119 This was followed by the terrifying violence of the Kris- 
tallnacht on 9 November 1938, incited by Goebbels. But it is not 
clear whether Goebbels acted on his own initiative or, more likely, 
on Hitler's orders, given quite casually. 120 Only with the coming of 
war did Hitler fix upon the real 'final solution': he had had it in 
mind all along but needed war to make it possible. On his world 
aims, as opposed to domestic policy, he was always clear, consistent 
and resolute, as we shall see. 

Hitler had no economic policy. But he had a very specific 
national policy. He wanted to rearm as fast as possible consistent 
with avoiding an Allied pre-emptive strike. He simply gave German 
industry his orders, and let its managers get on with it. Before he 
came to power, Otto Strasser had asked him what he would do 
with Krupp, and was told: 'Of course I would leave him alone. Do 
you think I should be so mad as to destroy Germany's 
economy?' 121 Hitler thought that Lenin's greatest economic mistake 
had been to order party members to take over the running of 
industry, and kill or expel its capitalist managers. He was deter- 
mined that the Brownshirts and other party elements would not get 
their hands on business, and warned Major Walter Buch, judge of 
the Party Court, in 1933: 'It is your task as the highest judge within 
the party to put a brake on the revolutionary element.' The unwill- 
ingness to do this had led to the destruction of other revolutions, he 
said. 122 

There is no evidence whatever that Hitler was, even to the 
smallest degree, influenced by big business philosophy. He bowed 
to business advice only when convinced that taking it would 
forward his military and external aims. He regarded himself as a 
socialist, and the essence of his socialism was that every individual 
or group in the state should unhesitatingly work for national policy. 
So it did not matter who owned the actual factory so long as those 
managing it did what they were told. German socialism, he told 
Hermann Rauschning, was not about nationalization: 'Our social- 
ism reaches much deeper. It does not change the external order of 
things, it orders solely the relationship of man to the state .... Then 


what does property and income count for? Why should we need to 
socialize the banks and the factories? We are socializing the 
people.' 123 Presenting his Four Year Plan (which, like Stalin's, was a 
mere propaganda exercise), he said that it was the job of the Ministry 
of Economics merely to 'present the tasks of the national economy' 
and then 'the private economy will have to fulfil them'. If it shrank 
from them 'then the National Socialist state will know how to solve 
these tasks'. 124 

Thus Hitler kept Germany's managerial class and made them 
work for him. Firms flourished or not exactly in accordance with the 
degree to which they carried out Hitler's orders. Of course he 
extracted money from them: but it was a blackmail— victim relation- 
ship, not that of client and patron. A case in point was the chemical 
firm I.G.Farben, originally caricatured by the Nazis as 'Isidore 
Farben' because of its Jewish directors, executives and scientists. It 
won Hitler's favour only by ridding itself of Jews (for instance the 
Nobel prize-winner Fritz Haber) and by agreeing to give absolute 
priority to Hitler's synthetics programme, the heart of his war- 
preparedness scheme, in a secret treaty signed 14 December 1933. 
Thereafter Farben was safe, but only at the cost of slavery to Hitler. 
Far from big business corrupting his socialism, it was the other way 
round. The corruption of I.G.Farben by the Nazis is one of the most 
striking individual tragedies within the overall tragedy of the Ger- 
man nation. 125 

Not having an economic policy was an advantage. Hitler was 
lucky. He took over a month before Roosevelt, and like him 
benefited from a recovery which had already begun shortly before. 
Unlike Roosevelt, however, he did not tinker with the economy by 
systematic public works programmes, though they existed. At a 
meeting on 8 February 1933 he said he rejected any such pro- 
grammes which had no bearing on rearmament. He started autobahn 
construction in September 1933 chiefly because he wanted fast 
motor-roads and thought he had discovered an organizing genius to 
create them in Fritz Todt (he had). 126 Briining had pursued an 
excessively deflationary policy because he had a paranoid fear of 
inflation. Hitler scrapped it. He sacked Dr Hans Luther, the Reich- 
bank President, and replaced him by Hjalmar Schacht, whom he also 
made Economics Minister. Schacht was by far the cleverest financial 
minister any country had between the wars. He was a market 
economist but an empiric who believed in no theory and played every 
situation by ear. 

Hitler hated high interest-rates and tight credit not because he was 
a pro-Keynesian but because he associated them with Jews. He told 
Schacht to provide the money for rearmament and Schacht did so, 


breaking the Reichbank's rules in the process. Inflation was avoided 
by Bruning's strict exchange-controls (which Hitler, in his pursuit of 
autarchy, made still more fierce), taxation (tax revenues tripled 
1933-8) and general belt-tightening: German living standards were 
scarcely higher in 1938 than a decade earlier. The Germans did not 
mind because they were back at work. Over 8 million had been 
unemployed when Hitler took over. The number began to fall very 
quickly in the second half of 1933, and by 1934 there were already 
shortages in certain categories of skilled labour, though 3 million 
were still out of work. By 1936, however, there was virtually full 
employment, and by 1938 firms were desperate for labour at a time 
when Britain and the USA were again in recession. 

Germany was thus the only major industrial country to recover 
quickly and completely from the Great Depression. The reason 
undoubtedly lies in the great intrinsic strength of German industry, 
which has performed phenomenally well from the 1860s to this day, 
when not mutilated by war or bedevilled by political uncertainty. 
Weimar had provided a disastrous political framework for business, 
which puts a stable and consistent fiscal background as the precondi- 
tion of efficient investment. Weimar always had difficulty in getting a 
budget through the Reichstag and often had to administer financial 
policy by emergency decree. Its inherent political instability grew 
worse rather than better. After the 1928 election it became increas- 
ingly difficult to form a stable government, and by March 1930 it 
was clear the regime would not last, with a risk that a Marxist system 
might replace it. Hitler's coming to power, therefore, provided 
German industry with precisely what it wanted to perform effec- 
tively: government stability, the end of politics and a sense of 
national purpose. It could do the rest for itself. Hitler was shrewd 
enough to realize this. While he allowed the party to invade every 
other sphere of government and public policy, he kept it out of 
industry and the army, both of which he needed to perform at 
maximum efficiency as quickly as possible. 127 

By the mid- 1930s Hitler was running a brutal, secure, conscience- 
less, successful and, for most Germans, popular regime. The German 
workers, on the whole, preferred secure jobs to civil rights which had 
meant little to them. 128 What did become meaningful to them were 
the social organizations which Hitler created in astonishing numbers, 
under the policy he termed 'belonging'. He also had the policy of 
co-ordination, which emphasized the unity of the state (under the 
party, of course). The Third Reich was a 'co-ordinated' state to 
which ordinary Germans 'belonged'. This concept of public life 
appealed to more Germans than the party politics of Weimar. The 
mood might not have lasted indefinitely, but it was still strong when 


Hitler destroyed his popularity by getting Germany into war again. It 
was probably strongest among the humblest and poorest (though not 
among some Catholic peasants, who refused to give Nazi salutes and 
greetings, and bitterly resented attacks on Christianity). 

Hitler also appealed to the moralistic nature of many Germans, 
that is, those who had a keen desire for 'moral' behaviour without 
possessing a code of moral absolutes rooted in Christian faith. 
Himmler, the conscientious mass-murderer, the scrupulous torturer, 
was the archetype of the men who served Hitler best. He defined the 
virtues of the ss, the embodiment of Nazi 'morality', as loyalty, 
honesty, obedience, hardness, decency, poverty and bravery. The 
notion of obeying 'iron laws' or 'a higher law', rather than the 
traditional, absolute morality taught in the churches, was a Hegelian 
one. Marx and Lenin translated it into a class concept; Hitler into a 
race one. Just as the Soviet cadres were taught to justify the most 
revolting crimes in the name of a moralistic class warfare, so the ss 
acted in the name of race - which Hitler insisted was a far more 
powerful and central human motivation than class. Service to the 
race, as opposed to the Marxist proletariat, was the basis of Nazi 
puritanism, marked by what Rudolf Hoess, commandant at 
Auschwitz, termed the 'cold' and 'stony' attitude of the ideal Nazi, 
one who 'had ceased to have human feelings' in the pursuit of 
duty. 129 

By early 1933, therefore, the two largest and strongest nations of 
Europe were firmly in the grip of totalitarian regimes which preached 
and practised, and indeed embodied, moral relativism, with all its 
horrifying potentialities. Each system acted as a spur to the most 
reprehensible characteristics of the other. One of the most disturbing 
aspects of totalitarian socialism, whether Leninist or Hitlerian, was 
the way in which, both as movements seeking power or regimes 
enjoying it, they were animated by a Gresham's Law of political 
morality: frightfulness drove out humanitarian instincts and each 
corrupted the other into ever-deeper profundities of evil. 

Hitler learnt from Lenin and Stalin how to set up a large-scale 
terror regime. But he had much to teach too. Like Lenin, he wished 
to concentrate all power in his single will. Like Lenin he was a 
gnostic, and just as Lenin thought that he alone was the true 
interpreter of history as the embodiment of proletarian determinism, 
so Hitler had confidence only in himself as the exponent of the 
race-will of the German people. The regime he set up in January 
1933 had one major anomaly: the sa. Hitler did not fully control it, 
and Roehm had visions which did not fit into Hitler's plans. The sa, 
already very large before the take-over, expanded rapidly after it. By 
the autumn of 1933 it had a million active, paid members, and 


reserves of 3.5 million more. Roehm's object was to make the sa the 
future German army, which would overthrow the Versailles settle- 
ment and secure Germany's expansionist aims. The old army, with 
its professional officer class, would be a mere training organization 
for a radical, revolutionary army which he himself would take on a 
voyage of conquest. Hitler was determined to reject this Napoleonic 
scheme. He had a high opinion of the regular army and believed it 
would put through rearmament quickly and with sufficient secrecy 
to carry the country through the period of acute danger when the 
French and their allies were still in a position to invade Germany and 
destroy his regime. Even more important, he had not the slightest 
intention of sharing power with Roehm, let alone surrendering it to 

From March 1933, when he began to assist the rise of Himmler, 
who had a secret phone-link to him, it is clear that Hitler had a 
gigantic crime in mind to resolve the dilemma which Roehm's sa 
presented to him. He prepared it with great thoroughness. From 
October 1933, Himmler was authorized by Hitler to acquire in 
plurality the offices of chief of political police in all the German 
states, in addition to the city of Munich. This process, naturally seen 
by Himmler's enemies as empire-building, required Hitler's active 
assistance at every stage both because it was illegal (Frick had to be 
kept in the dark) and because it involved negotiations with the 
Gauleiters, whom Hitler alone controlled, in each Gaue. The process 
was completed on 20 April 1934 when Heydrich's sd revealed a 
'plot' to murder Goering, which his own Gestapo had failed to 
uncover. Hitler then ordered Himmler to take over Goering's police 
(officially as his deputy). The ss organization, big in itself, now 
controlled all Germany's political police and was in a position to 
strike at even the gigantic, armed sa. 

Hitler's motives for destroying the sa's leadership and indepen- 
dence had meanwhile been increasing. Its brutal, open street-violence 
alienated Hitler's supporters at home and was the chief source of 
criticism of his regime abroad. When Sir John Simon and Anthony 
Eden visited him on 21 February 1934, he had promised to demobi- 
lize two-thirds of the sa and permit inspection of the rest: 'short of 
the actual dissolution of the force,' wrote Eden, '. . . he could 
scarcely have gone further.' 130 Equally important was the hostility of 
the army. By spring 1934 the aged Hindenburg was clearly nearing 
the end. Hitler wished to succeed him, uniting presidency and 
chancellorship in one. The army and navy commanders agreed that 
he should do this, provided he emasculated the sa and destroyed its 
pretensions, and it is typical of the naivety they always showed in 
negotiating with Hitler that they gave him something vital in return 


for a 'concession' which he needed to make anyway, and in which 
army co-operation was essential. 

Hitler went ahead with his purge, an act of pure gangsterism, as 
soon as Himmler had achieved monopoly of the political police. He 
determined to murder all his immediate political enemies at once 
(including settling some old scores), so that the 'evidence' of conspi- 
racy, manufactured by Heydrich's intelligence bureau, produced 
unlikely conjunctions worthy of a Stalin show-trial. Himmler and 
Heydrich prepared the final list, Hitler simply underlining in pencil 
those to be shot; Heydrich signed the warrants, which read simply: 
'By order of the Fiihrer and Reich Chancellor, — is condemned to 
death by shooting for high treason.' At a comparatively late stage 
Goering was brought into the plot. The Defence Minister Blomberg, 
together with his political assistant, General von Reichenau, were 
made accomplices, army units being ordered to stand by in case sa 
units resisted. Early on 30 June 1934 Hitler himself shook Roehm 
awake at the sanatorium of the Tegernsee, and then retired to the 
Munich Brownhouse. The Bavarian Justice Minister was not pre- 
pared to order mass shootings on the basis of a mere typed list, and 
Roehm and his associates were not actually murdered until 2 July, 
the political police carrying it out. In Berlin, meanwhile, according to 
the eye-witness account of the Vice-Chancellor, von Papen, the 
accused were taken to Goering's private house in the Leipzigerplatz, 
where he and Himmler identified them, ticked them off the list and 
ordered them to be taken away and shot immediately; Goering's 
private police provided the squads. Two days later, Hitler arrived 
from Munich at the Templehof. Himmler and Goering met him on 
the tarmac, under a blood-red sky, the three men then studying the 
lists of those already shot or about to be shot, a Wagnerian scene 
described by the Gestapo officer Hans Gisevius. Frick, the Interior 
Minister, was told to go home: the matter did not concern him. 
According to Gisevius, Frick said, 'My Fiihrer, if you do not proceed 
at once against Himmler and his ss, as you have against Roehm and 
his sa, all you will have done is to have called in Beelzebub to drive 
out the devil.' 131 That shows how little he understood his master. 

Many of those murdered had nothing to do with the sa. They 
included the former Bavarian Prime Minister, Gustav von Kahr, who 
had declined to take part in the 1923 putsch ; Hitler's old colleague 
and party rival, Gregor Strasser; the slippery old brass-hat who was 
going to 'contain' him, General von Schleicher, plus his wife and his 
close associate, General von Bredow; the Berlin Catholic leader, 
Ernst Klausener, and many other inconvenient or dangerous people, 
probably about 150 in all. 132 

This act of mass murder by the government and police was a moral 


catastrophe for Germany. The code of honour of the German 
generals, such as it was, was shattered, for they had connived at the 
killing of two of their friends and colleagues. Justice was ridiculed for 
a law was passed on 3 July, authorizing the deeds ex post facto. Hitler 
was received in state at Hindenburg's deathbed, where the confused 
old man, who had once dismissed him as the 'Bohemian corporal', 
greeted him with the words 'Your Majesty'. After the Wooden Titan 
died on 2 August, Hitler assumed the succession by virtue of a law he 
had issued the day before, making him 'leader and Reich Chancellor'. 
The same day all officers and men of the army took a sacred oath to 
him, beginning: 'I will render unconditional obedience to the Fuhrer 
of the German Reich and people.' The arrangement then went to a 
plebiscite and in August the German people rewarded the murderer- 
in-chief with a verdict of 84.6 per cent. 133 Not the least significant 
aspect of this turning-point was the presentation, to the ss men who 
had carried out the murders, of daggers of honour. Here was the 
shameless symbolism of moral relativism. The ss was thus launched 
upon its monstrous career of legalized killing. The Roehm affair, with 
the state openly engaged in mass murder, with the connivance of its 
old military elite and the endorsement of the electorate, directly 
foreshadowed the extermination programmes to come. 

It was the sheer audacity of the Roehm purge, and the way in which 
Hitler got away with it, with German and world opinion and with his 
own colleagues and followers, which encouraged Stalin to consolidate 
his personal dictatorship by similar means. Hitherto, the party elite 
had permitted him to murder only ordinary Russians. Even to expel a 
senior party member required elaborate preparations. In 1930, Stalin 
had been openly criticized by Syrtsov, a Politburo candidate, and 
Lominadze, a Central Committee member. He had wanted both of 
them shot but the most he managed was their expulsion from the cc. 
Two years later he had called for the shooting of Ryutin, who had 
circulated privately a two-hundred-page document criticizing his 
dictatorship. Sergei Kirov, who had succeeded Zinoviev as boss of 
Leningrad, had insisted that Ryutin be spared and sent to an 'isolator', 
or special prison for top party men. 134 By summer 1934, Kirov's 
influence was still growing, and he appeared to be the man most likely 
to succeed Stalin - or oust him. The success of the Roehm purge 
inspired Stalin to do away with internal party restraints once and for 
all, and in the most ingenious manner: by having Kirov murdered, and 
using the crime as an excuse to strike at all his other enemies. 135 

Kirov was shot in mysterious circumstances on 1 December 1934, 
in the middle of the Smolny Institute, the former girls' school from 
which Lenin had launched his putsch and which had remained party 
hq in Leningrad ever since. It was a heavily guarded place and it was 


never explained how the assassin, Leonid Nikolaev, got through the 
security cordon. What is even more suspicious is that, a few days 
before, Kirov's bodyguard had been removed on the orders of 
Yagoda, the nkvd head. In 1956 and again in 1961 Khrushchev 
hinted strongly that Stalin was responsible, and the circumstantial 
evidence seems overwhelming. 136 

Stalin reacted to the news of the murder with great violence but in 
a manner which suggests premeditation. He took the night train to 
Leningrad, and as dawn was breaking he was met at the Moscow 
station by Medved, head of the Leningrad police. Without a word, 
Stalin struck him heavily in the face. He then commandeered a floor 
of the Smolny Institute and took personal charge of the investiga- 
tions. He sat behind a table, flanked by his own flunkeys: Molotov, 
Voroshilov, Zhdanov and others, with the Leningrad party officials 
on one side, the security men on the other. When Nikolaev was 
brought in, and Stalin asked him why he shot Kirov, the creature fell 
on his knees and shouted, pointing at the security men, 'But they 
made me do it.' They ran to him and beat him unconscious with 
pistol butts; then he was dragged out and revived in alternate hot and 
cold baths. Stalin had Borisov, the head of Kirov's bodyguards, 
beaten to death with crowbars; Medved was sent to a camp and 
murdered three years later; Nikolaev was executed on 29 December 
after a secret trial. More than a hundred so-called 'Whites' were 
shot; 40,000 Leningraders put in camps. Soon, anyone who knew 
the facts of the Kirov case was either dead or lost for ever in the 
Gulag Archipelago. 137 

That was only the beginning. Two weeks after Kirov's murder, 
Stalin had Zinoviev and Kamenev arrested. He formulated the 
charges against them in the minutest detail and revised the testimony 
they were to give down to the last comma. It took months to rehearse 
them, Stalin threatening nothing would be spared 'until they came 
crawling on their bellies with confessions in their teeth'. 138 They came 
up for trial in 1936, following a deal in which they agreed to confess 
everything provided their families were left alone and they them- 
selves spared. In fact they were both shot within a day of their trial 
ending. The way in which Zinoviev begged for mercy was made the 
subject of a gruesome imitation, with strong anti-Semitic overtones, 
given at Stalin's intimate parties by K.V.Pauker, a former theatre- 
dresser promoted to be head of Stalin's personal nkvd guard and the 
only man permitted to shave him. Pauker performed this act 
regularly until he, too, was shot as a 'German spy'. 139 

Immediately Zinoviev and Kamenev were dead, Stalin ordered 
Yagoda to execute more than 5,000 party members already under 
arrest. This was the beginning of the Great Terror. Soon after this 


was done, Stalin sent from Sochi, where he was on holiday, the 
sinister telegram of 25 September 1936: 'We deem it absolutely 
necessary and urgent that Comrade Yezhov be nominated to the post 
of People's Commissar for Internal Affairs. Yagoda has definitely 
proved himself to be incapable of unmasking the Trotskyite- 
Zinovievite block. The ogpu is four years behind in this matter.' 140 
This was followed by a systematic purge of the secret police, carried 
out by teams of two to three hundred party zealots secretly recruited 
by Yezhov. 141 Next Stalin eliminated his old Georgian friend Ordz- 
honikidze, the last Politburo member allowed to call him by his 
nickname 'Koba' or to argue with him: he was given the choice of 
shooting himself or dying in the police cells. After February 1937 
Stalin could kill anyone, in any way he wished. At the cc plenum at 
the end of the month, it 'instructed' Stalin to arrest Bukharin and 
Rykov. Bukharin pleaded tearfully for his life. Stalin: 'If you are 
innocent, you can prove it in a prison cell!' The CC: 'Shoot the 
traitor!' The two men were taken straight off to prison and death; 
Yagoda was later heard to mutter, 'What a pity I didn't arrest all of 
you before, when I had the power.' 142 (It made no difference: of the 
140 people present, nearly two-thirds would shortly be murdered.) 

From the end of 1936 to the second half of 1938, Stalin struck at 
every group in the regime. In 1937 alone he killed 3,000 senior secret 
police officers and 90 per cent of the public prosecutors in the 
provinces. He had been in secret negotiations with Hitler since 1935. 
The following year he persuaded the Nazi government to concoct 
forged evidence of secret contacts between the Soviet army comman- 
der, Marshal Tukhachevsky, and Hitler's generals; it was done by 
the Gestapo and transmitted by one of its agents, General Skoblin, 
who also worked for the nkvd. 143 Stalin's first military victim was a 
cavalry general, Dmitry Shmidt, who had apparently abused him in 
1927; Shmidt was arrested on 5 July 1936, tortured and murdered. 
Tukhashevsky and seven other senior generals followed on 11 June 
1937, and thereafter 30,000 officers, about half the total, including 
80 per cent of the colonels and generals. 144 Most officers were shot 
within twenty-four hours of arrest. In every group, the aim was to 
kill the most senior, especially those who had fought in the Revolu- 
tion or who had known the party before Stalin owned it. The purge 
of the party itself was the most prolonged and severe. In Leningrad, 
only two out of its 150 delegates to the seventeenth Party Congress 
were allowed to live. The losses in the Moscow party were as great. 
About one million party members were killed in all. 145 

The crimes committed in these years have never been atoned for, 
properly investigated or punished (except by accident), since the 
successive generations of party leaders who ruled after Stalin were all 


involved in their commission. Yezhov, the principal assassin, was 
murdered himself by Stalin after the purges were over. His successor 
as head of the secret police, Lavrenti Beria, was gunned down by his 
Politburo colleagues immediately after Stalin's own death. Georgi 
Malenkov, who ruled Russia 1953-6, was the chief purger in 
Belorussia and Armenia. Khrushchev, who succeeded him and ruled 
1956—64, was in charge of the purge both in Moscow and (together 
with Yezhov himself and Molotov) in the Ukraine. The Leningrad 
purge was under Zhdanov, one of his assistants (and one of the very 
few survivors) being Aleksei Kosygin, Prime Minister in the 1970s 
until his death. Kaganovich, who held high office until the 1960s, 
was the destroyer of the party in the Smolensk region. Leonid 
Brezhnev, an abetter and survivor of the Ukraine purge, ruled Russia 
from 1964 until his death in 1982. 

All these men, who governed Russia in the thirty years after 
Stalin's death, worked from a blend of self-aggrandizement and fear, 
under Stalin's direct and detailed instructions. An nkvd man who 
had been in Stalin's bodyguard testified that Yezhov came to Stalin 
almost daily in the years 1937-9, with a thick file of papers; Stalin 
would give orders for arrests, the use of torture, and sentences (the 
last before the trial). Stalin carried out some interrogations himself. 
He annotated documents 'arrest'; 'arrest everyone'; 'no need to 
check: arrest them'. At the 1961 twenty-second Party Congress, 
Z.T.Serdiuk read out a letter from Yezhov: 'Comrade Stalin: I am 
sending for confirmation four lists of people whose cases are before 
the Military Collegium: List One, general; List Two, former military 
personnel; List Three, former nkvd personnel; List Four, wives of 
former enemies of the people. I request approval for first-degree 
condemnation (pervaia kategoriia, i.e. shooting).' The list was signed 
'Approved, J.Stalin, V. Molotov'. Stalin's signature is appended to 
over 400 lists from 1937 to 1939, bearing the names of 44,000 
people, senior party leaders, officials of the government, officers and 
cultural figures. 146 

Foreign Communists who had sought asylum in Moscow were 
murdered too, in large numbers. They included Bela Kun and most of 
the Hungarian Communist leaders, nearly all the top Polish Com- 
munists; all the Yugoslav party brass except Tito, the famous 
Bulgarians Popov and Tanev, heroes of the Leipzig trial with 
Dimitrov (who escaped by sheer luck: Stalin had a file on him); all 
the Koreans; many Indians and Chinese; and Communist leaders 
from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bessarabia, Iran, Italy, Finland, 
Austria, France, Romania, Holland, Czechoslovakia, the United 
States and Brazil. Particularly hard hit were the Germans who had 
taken refuge from Hitler. We know the names of 842 of them who 


were arrested, but in fact there were many more, including wives and 
children of the leaders, such as Karl Liebknecht's family. Some of the 
Germans who survived were later able to display the marks of 
torture of both the Gestapo and the nkvd, and were thus living 
symbols of the furtive contacts which the security services of Nazi 
Germany and Soviet Russia maintained throughout this period. On 
the whole, European Communists were safer in their own fascist 
homelands than in the 'Socialist mother-country'. Roy Medvedev, 
the independent Soviet Marxist historian, noted: 'It is a terrible 
paradox that most European Communist leaders and activists who 
lived in the USSR perished, while most of those who were in prison 
in their native lands in 1937-8 survived.' 147 That Stalin exchanged 
lists of 'wanted' activists with the Nazis is certain, and he may have 
done so with other totalitarian regimes which his propaganda 
assailed with mechanical ferocity. He took a close interest in the fate 
of the foreign Communists he dealt with. But then he took a close 
interest in all aspects of his terror. At one point during the trial of his 
old comrade and victim Bukharin, an arc-light briefly revealed to 
visitors the face of Stalin himself, peering through the black glass of a 
small window set high under the ceiling of the court. 148 

Arthur Koestler's brilliant novel, Darkness at Noon (1940), gave 
the impression that Stalin's leading victims, trapped in their own 
Marxist theology, and the relative morality they shared with him, 
were induced to collaborate in their own mendacious testimony - 
even came to believe it. Nothing could be further from the truth. 
While leading 'conspirators', whose evidence was needed to build up 
the basic structure of the fantasy, were brought to confess by a 
mixture of threats to kill or torture wives and children, promises of 
leniency, and physical violence, for the overwhelming majority of 
those who were engulfed, Stalin's methods differed little from Peter 
the Great's, except of course in scale, which precluded any subtlety. 

During these years something like 10 per cent of Russia's vast 
population passed through Stalin's penitential machinery. Famous 
Tsarist prisons, such as the Lefortovskaia, which had been turned 
into museums and peopled with waxwork figures, were put into 
service again, the wax replaced by flesh and blood. Churches, hotels, 
even bathhouses and stables were turned into gaols; and dozens of 
new ones built. Within these establishments, torture was used on a 
scale which even the Nazis were later to find it difficult to match. 
Men and women were mutilated, eyes gouged out, eardrums per- 
forated; they were encased in 'nail boxes' and other fiendish devices. 
Victims were often tortured in front of their families. The wife of 
Nestor Lakoba, a strikingly beautiful woman, preferred to die under 
torture, even when faced with her weeping fourteen-year-old son, 


rather than accuse her husband. Many faced a horrible death with 
similar stoicism. The nkvd's plan to stage a show-trial of the Youth 
Movement was frustrated by the fact that S.V.Kovarev and other 
leaders of the Komsomol Central Committee all preferred to die 
under torture rather than confess to a lie. Large numbers of army 
officers were killed in this fashion: in extremis they might sign their 
own 'confessions' but they would not implicate others. According to 
Medvedev, nkvd recruits, aged eighteen, 'were taken to torture- 
chambers, like medical students to laboratories to watch 
dissections'. 149 

That Hitler's example helped to spur Stalin to his great terror is 
clear enough, and his agents were always quick to learn anything the 
Gestapo and the ss had to teach. But the instruction was mutual. The 
camps system was imported by the Nazis from Russia. Himmler set 
them up with great speed; there were nearly one hundred Nazi camps 
before the end of 1933. But at all stages, even at the height of the ss 
extermination programme in 1942-5, there were many more Soviet 
camps, most of them much larger than the Nazi ones, and containing 
many more people. Indeed, the Soviet camps, as Solzhenitsyn and 
others have shown, constituted a vast series of substantial territorial 
islands within the Soviet Union, covering many thousands of square 
miles. Like the Nazi camps, which ranged downwards from Dachau, 
the 'Eton' or 'Groton' of the system, the Soviet camps were of many 
varieties. There was, for instance, a special camp for the widows, 
orphans and other relatives of slaughtered army officers; and there 
were prison-orphanages for the children of 'enemies of the people', 
who were themselves liable to be tried and sentenced, as was 
Marshal Tukhachevsky's daughter Svetlana, as soon as they were old 
enough. 150 

Most of the camps, however, served a definite economic purpose, 
and it was their example which inspired Himmler, from 1941 
onwards, to seek to create a substantial 'socialized sector' of the 
Germany economy. The Soviet Union did not engage in a deliberate 
and systematic policy of genocide, though Stalin came close to it 
when dealing with the Soviet 'nationalities' in the Second World 
War. But the Soviet camps were (and are) 'death camps' all the same. 
The sign in iron letters over the camps in the Kolyma region, among 
the very worst, which read 'Labour is a matter of honour, valour and 
heroism', was as misleading as the Nazi imitation of it, hung over the 
entrance to Auschwitz: Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Wins Freedom). 
Within these camps the nkvd frequently carried out mass- 
executions, using machine-guns: 40,000 men, women and children 
were thus killed in the Kolyma camps alone in 1938. The 'special 
punishment' and gold-mine camps were the worst killers. Lenin and 


later Stalin built up the world's second-largest gold industry (after 
South Africa's) and huge gold reserves, on the backs of men working 
a sixteen-hour day, with no rest days, wearing rags, sleeping often in 
torn tents, with temperatures down to sixty degrees below zero, and 
with pitifully small quantities of food. Witnesses later testified that it 
took twenty to thirty days to turn a healthy man into a physical 
wreck in these camps, and some claimed that conditions were 
deliberately planned to achieve a high death-rate. Savage beatings 
were administered by the guards, and also by the professional 
criminal element, who were given supervisory duties over the masses 
of 'politicals' - another feature of the camps imitated by the Nazis. 

In these circumstances, the death-rate was almost beyond the 
imagining of civilized men. Medvedev puts the figure of the great 
terror victims summarily shot at 4—500,000. He thinks the total 
number of victims in the years 1936—9 was about 4.5 million. Men 
and women died in the camps at the rate of about a million a year 
during this and later periods, and the total of deaths caused by 
Stalin's policy was in the region of 10 million. 151 Just as the Roehm 
purge goaded Stalin into imitation, so in turn the scale of his mass 
atrocities encouraged Hitler in his wartime schemes to change the 
entire demography of Eastern Europe. In social engineering, mass 
murder on an industrial scale is always the ultimate weapon: Hitler's 
'final solution' for the Jews had its origins not only in his own 
fevered mind but in the collectivization of the Soviet peasantry. 

Granted their unprecedented nature, the atrocities committed by 
the Nazi and Soviet totalitarian regimes in the 1930s had remarkably 
little impact on the world, though the nature (if not the scale) of 
both, and especially the former, were reasonably well known at the 
time. More attention was focused on Hitler's crimes, partly because 
they were nearer the West, partly because they were often openly 
vaunted, but chiefly because they were publicized by a growing 
emigre population of intellectuals. As a self-proclaimed enemy of 
civilization, as opposed to Kultur, Hitler was a natural target for the 
writers of the free world even before he became Chancellor; once in 
power he proceeded to confirm his image as a mortal enemy of the 
intelligentsia. His public book-burning started in March 1933 and 
reached a climax in Berlin that May, with Goebbels presiding, 
quoting the words of Ulrich von Hutten: 'Oh century, oh sciences, it 
is a joy to be alive!' Exhibitions of 'degenerate art' were held at 
Nuremberg (1935) and Munich (1937). Museums were bullied into 
disposing of some of their paintings: thus, at a sale in Lucerne in June 
1939, works by Gauguin and Van Gogh went for derisory prices, and 
Picasso's Absinthe-Drinker failed to find a buyer. Regular lists of 
emigres deprived of their German citizenship were published. They 


included Leon Feuchtwanger, Helmut von Gerlach, Alfred Kerr, 
Heinrich Mann, Kurt Tucholsky, Ernst Toller (August 1933), Robert 
Becher, Einstein, Theodor Plievier (March 1934), Bruno Frank, Klaus 
Mann, Piscator (November 1934), Friedrich Wolf, Berthold Brecht, 
Paul Bekker, Arnold Zweig, Thomas Mann (1935-6), and scores of 
other famous figures. 152 These, and thousands of Jewish and anti-Nazi 
university professors and journalists, who were prevented from making 
a living in Germany and were virtually obliged to emigrate, swelled the 
chorus of those who sought to expose conditions within Hitler's Reich. 

All the same, Hitler had his vocal admirers. They included Lloyd 
George, the Duke of Windsor and Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily 
Mail. Major Yeats-Brown, author of the famous Lives of a Bengal 
Lancer, testified that it was his 'honest opinion that there is more real 
Christianity in Germany today than there ever was under the Weimar 
Republic'. Among those who expressed qualified approval of fascism in 
its various forms were Benedetto Croce, Jean Cocteau, Luigi Piran- 
dello, Giovanni Gentile, James Burnham, W.B.Yeats, T.S.Eliot and 
Filippo Marinetti, as well as actual pro-fascist intellectuals like Charles 
Maurras, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Ezra Pound, Oswald Spengler and 
Martin Heidegger. 153 

The overwhelming majority of intellectuals, however, veered to the 
Left. They saw Nazism as a far greater danger, both to their own order 
and to all forms of freedom. By the mid-Thirties, many intelligent 
people believed that fascism was likely to become the predominant 
system of government in Europe and perhaps throughout the world. 
There were quasi-fascist regimes in Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, 
Poland, Hungary, Austria, Turkey, Greece, Romania, Japan and many 
other states ; and flourishing fascist parties virtually everywhere else. To 
them the Soviet Union appeared to be the only major power wholly 
committed to opposing, and if necessary fighting, fascism. Hence many 
of them were not only prepared to defend its apparent virtues but to 
justify the manifest ruthlessness of the Stalin regime. Very few of them, 
at any rate at that stage, were aware of the true nature of the regime. 
Jewish writers, in particular, knew little or nothing of Stalin's violent 
anti-Semitism. It was not known that he sent over 600 writers to the 
camps, many (including Isaac Babel and Osip Mandelstam) to their 
deaths; that he almost certainly murdered Maxim Gorky; and that he, 
like Hitler, took millions of books out of circulation and burnt them, 
though not publicly. 154 

Yet Western intellectuals knew enough about Soviet severity to 
oblige them to adopt a double standard in defending it. Lincoln Steffens 
set the tone: Treason to the Tsar wasn't a sin, treason to Communism 
is.' 155 Shaw argued: 'We cannot afford to give ourselves moral airs 
when our most enterprising neighbour . . . humanely and judiciously 


liquidates a handful of exploiters and speculators to make the world 
safe for honest men.' 156 Andre Malraux argued that 'Just as the 
Inquisition did not affect the fundamental dignity of Christianity, so 
the Moscow trials have not diminished the fundamental dignity of 
Communism.' Many intellectuals, including some who knew what 
totalitarian justice meant, defended the trials. Brecht wrote: 'Even in 
the opinion of the bitterest enemies of the Soviet Union and of her 
government, the trials have clearly demonstrated the existence of 
active conspiracies against the regime', a 'quagmire of infamous 
crimes' committed by 'All the scum, domestic and foreign, all the 
vermin, the professional criminals and informers . . . this rabble ... I 
am convinced this is the truth.' 158 Feuchtwanger was present at the 
1937 Pyatakov trial (which led up to the Bukharin and other trials) 
and wrote an instant book about it, Moscow 1937, which declared: 
'there was no justification of any sort for imagining that there was 
anything manufactured or artificial about the trial proceedings.' Stalin 
immediately had this translated and published in Moscow (November 
1937) and a copy of it was pressed on the wretched Bukharin on the 
very eve of his own trial, to complete his despair. 159 

The nkvd, indeed, made frequent use of pro-Stalin tracts by 
Western intellectuals to break down the resistance of their prisoners. 
They were assisted, too, by pro-Stalin elements in the Western 
embassies and press in Moscow. Ambassador Davies told his govern- 
ment that the trials were absolutely genuine and repeated his views in a 
mendacious book, Mission to Moscow, published in 1941. Harold 
Denny, of the New York Times, wrote of the trials: 'in the broad sense, 
they are not fakes' (14 March 1938). His colleague, Walter Duranty, 
the paper's regular Moscow correspondent, was one of the most 
comprehensive of Stalin's apologists. As Malcolm Muggeridge wrote: 
'There was something vigorous, vivacious, preposterous about his 
unscrupulousness, which made his persistent lying somehow absorb- 
ing.' His favourite expression was 'I put my money on Stalin'. 160 Of 
the Pyatakov trial he wrote: 'It is unthinkable that Stalin and 
Voroshilov and Budyonny and the court martial could have sentenced 
their friends to death unless the proofs of guilt were overwhelming.' 161 
To suggest the evidence was faked, echoed Ambassador Davies, 
'would be to suppose the creative genius of Shakespeare'. 162 

The attempt by Western intellectuals to defend Stalinism involved 
them in a process of self-corruption which transferred to them, and so 
to their countries, which their writings helped to shape, some of the 
moral decay inherent in totalitarianism itself, especially its denial of 
individual responsibility for good or ill. Lionel Trilling shrewdly 
observed of the Stalinists of the West that they repudiated politics, or 
at least the politics of 'vigilance and effort': 


In an imposed monolithic government they saw the promise of rest from the 
particular acts of will which are needed to meet the many, often clashing, 
requirements of democratic society . . . they cherished the idea of revolution 
as the final, all-embracing act of will which would forever end the 
exertions of our individual wills. 163 

For America, the development was particularly serious because the 
Stalinists then formed the salient part of the new radical movement; 
and as Trilling also noted: 

In any view of the American cultural situation, the importance of the radical 
movement of the Thirties cannot be overestimated. It may be said to have 
created the American intellectual class as we now know it in its great size 
and influence. It fixed the character of this class as being, through all 
mutations of opinion, predominantly of the Left. 164 

This was the class which shaped the thinking of the liberal- 
Democratic political establishment, which was to hold power in the 
most powerful nation on earth until virtually the end of the 1970s. 
The ramifying influence of Thirties totalitarian terror was, there- 
fore, immense, in space and time. But at that epoch, the ultimate 
consequences of Hitler and Stalin seemed unimportant. What mat- 
tered was what their regimes would do in the immediate future, not 
merely to their helpless subjects, but to their neighbours near and far. 
The advent of Stalin and Hitler to absolute power dealt a decisive 
blow to a world structure which was already unstable and fragile. 
Both had limitless territorial aims, since both subscribed to imminent 
eschatologies, one of class, one of race, in the course of which their 
rival power-systems would become globally dominant. Hence the 
arrival of these two men on the scene introduced what may be 
termed the high noon of aggression. 


The High Noon of Aggression 

During the 1920s, the civilized Western democracies had maintained 
some kind of shaky world order, through the League on the one 
hand, and through Anglo-American financial diplomacy on the 
other. At the beginning of the 1930s, the system - if it could be called 
a system - broke down completely, opening an era of international 
banditry in which the totalitarian states behaved simply in accor- 
dance with their military means. The law-abiding powers were 
economically ruined and unilaterally disarmed. The French economy 
passed its peak in 1929 and thereafter went into steady decline, not 
recovering its 1929 levels until the early 1950s. Its unemployment 
figures remained comparatively low simply because the dismissed 
workers went back to the peasant farms on which they had been 
born, and migrants were ejected. France retreated into isolation and 
began to build her Maginot Line, itself a symbol of defeatism. The 
Americans and the British were obsessed by economy. In the early 
1930s, the American army, with 132,069 officers and men, was only 
the sixteenth largest in the world, smaller than those of Czecho- 
slovakia, Poland, Turkey, Spain and Romania. 1 The Chief of Staff, 
MacArthur, had the army's only limousine. Ramsay MacDonald, 
Britain's Labour Prime Minister, who had no car of his own and 
none provided by the state, had to trot to the end of Downing Street 
and hail a bus or taxi when he went about the nation's business. 2 In 
1930, the Americans persuaded the semi-pacifist Labour government 
to sign the London Naval Treaty, which reduced the Royal Navy to a 
state of impotence it had not known since the seventeenth century. 
The Foreign Secretary Arthur Henderson, a Methodist Utopian who 
talked of 'mobilizing a democracy of diplomacy', defended the 
decision to cease work on the projected Singapore base, and to cut 
Britain's cruisers to a mere fifty, on the grounds that Japan 'had 
definitely pledged herself to settle her disputes by peaceful means'. 3 
Ironically it was the 1930 London Naval Treaty, which they had 



reluctantly signed, that finally persuaded the Japanese to break with 
the West and pursue their own self-interest. The 1930 Smoot- 
Hawley tariff, which destroyed their American trade (15 per cent of 
their exports) and the other tariffs which followed in retaliation, 
seemed to them sufficient moral reason to return to the law of the 
jungle. On 10 September 1931 sailors at the British naval base at 
Invergordon, angered by a 10 per cent pay cut, mutinied and 
immobilized some of Britain's main fleet units. Eight days later, the 
Japanese Army High Command engineered a crisis in Manchuria, 
leading to invasion, against the express commands of the civilian 
cabinet in Tokyo. 4 The cabinet surrendered and endorsed the army 
coup, declaring a new puppet state of Manchukuo. 

Britain could, and did, do nothing. Its Tokyo ambassador, Sir 
Francis Lindley, reported that he found himself 'in the unpleasant 
position of seeking assurances from a government which had not the 
power to make them good'. 5 Britain got a League of Nations inquiry 
set up, under Lord Lytton, which in due course produced a report 
critical of Japan. The only consequence was that Japan left the 
League on 27 March 1933. League enthusiasts, like Lord Robert 
Cecil, pressed for 'action' against Japan. But they were the same men 
who had insisted on disarmament. On 29 February 1932 Sir 
Frederick Field, the First Sea Lord, said Britain was 'powerless' in the 
Far East; Singapore was 'defenceless'. The ten-year-rule was now 
quietly scrapped, but it was too late. 6 As Stanley Baldwin put it: 'If 
you enforce an economic boycott you will have war declared by 
Japan and she will seize Singapore and Hong Kong and we cannot, as 
we are placed, stop her. You will get nothing out of Washington but 
words, big words, but only words.' 7 

In fact, even with their existing forces, Britain and America in 
combination could have deterred and contained Japan. Pearl Harbor 
could only be defended by sea-power. Reinforced with British units, 
the American Pacific fleet might have made the base secure. Singa- 
pore harbour could be defended by adequate air power alone. With 
American air reinforcements, that too might have been rendered 
defensible. 8 A strong line with Japan would then have been feasible. 
But such joint planning was ruled out by America's growing isola- 
tionism — a feature of the 1930s much more than the 1920s. America 
was moving towards the 1935 Neutrality Act. When Roosevelt took 
over from Hoover he made matters worse. Hoover had helped to 
plan a world economic conference, to be held in London June-July 
1933. It might have persuaded the 'have-not' powers that there were 
alternatives to fighting for a living. On 3 July Roosevelt torpedoed it. 
Thereafter no real effort was made to create a stable financial 
framework within which disputes could be settled by diplomacy. In 


the 1920s the world had been run by the power of money. In the 
1930s it was subject to the arbitration of the sword. 

A careful study of the chronology of the period reveals the extent 
to which the totalitarian powers, though acting independently and 
sometimes in avowed hostility towards each other, took advantage 
of their numbers and their growing strength to challenge and outface 
the pitifully stretched resources of democratic order. Italy, Japan, 
Russia and Germany played a geopolitical game together, whose 
whole object was to replace international law and treaties by a new 
Realpolitik in which, each believed, its own millennarian vision was 
destined to be realized. None of these wolf-like states trusted the 
others; each deceived when it could; but each took advantage of the 
depredations of the rest to enlarge its booty and strengthen its 
position. There was therefore a conspiracy in crime, unstable and 
shifting, sometimes open, more often covert. Competition in crime, 
too: the process whereby one totalitarian state corrupted another 
internally now spread to foreign dealings, so that a Gresham's Law 
operated here, too, driving out diplomacy and replacing it by force. 

These predator-states practised Realpolitik in different ways and 
at different speeds. Stalin's Russia was the most Bismarckian, 
content to seize opportunity merely when it offered and patient 
enough to move according to geological time-scales, convinced all 
would be hers in the end. Germany was the most dynamic, with an 
imminent eschatology which Hitler felt must be realized in his 
lifetime. Mussolini's Italy was the jackal, following in the wake of 
the larger beasts and snatching any morsel left unguarded. Japan was 
the most unstable, haunted by the vision of actual mass-starvation. 
The world recession had cut the prices of her principal export, raw 
silk, by 50 per cent and she was now short of currency to buy rice. 
Yet by 1934 she was spending 937 million yen out of a total budget 
of 2,112 million, nearly half, on her army and navy. 9 All these 
totalitarian regimes suffered from internal predation too, the 
Hobbesian 'war of every man against every man'. But at least 
Germany, Russia and Italy had gangster dictatorships. In Japan, 
nobody was in charge. 

The 1931 Manchurian conspiracy showed that the military could 
usurp decision-making and remain unpunished. The 1932 murders 
of the prime minister, finance minister and leading industrialists 
marked the effective end of government by parliamentary means. In 
December 1933 the Tenno himself was nearly murdered, and 
thereafter he went in terror. The most influential single figure in 
Japan in the period 1931-4 was the War Minister, General Sadao 
Araki, a ferocious bushido ideologue, who ran a Hitler-style youth 
movement and was one of the leading exponents of the new 


totalitarian Shinto. In a European country he would almost certainly 
have become a dictator, and thus created a centralized focus of 
decision-making and responsibility. But in a country which, in 
theory, was ruled by a living god-man, individual leadership was 
reprobated and punished by assassination. Even the most authorita- 
rian of the Japanese, indeed especially the most authoritarian, 
subscribed to clan or group rule, small oligarchies meeting and 
arguing in secret and taking collective decisions which shrouded 
individual responsibility. 10 It was a system which encouraged at one 
and the same time both physical recklessness and moral cowardice, 
and which stifled the personal conscience. It made the Japanese 
ruling elites peculiarly susceptible to the collectivism preached, albeit 
in different accents, by Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler and especially to 
the central proposition, about which all three were unanimous, that 
the rights of the individual were subsumed in the rights of the state, 
which were total and unqualified. Since the 1860s, the British and 
Americans had tried hard to inculcate a different tradition; and with 
some success. It was upheld by and personified in Professor Tatsuk- 
ichi Minobe, an authority on constitutional law at the Imperial 
University since 1902, and a peer of Japan by imperial nomination. 
His three major works on the Japanese constitution made him the 
mentor of Japanese parliamentary liberalism, and were objects of 
peculiar hatred to the devots of totalitarian Shinto. Attacks on the 
old professor, who argued that the law existed to protect the 
individual in society, and that it was greater than the state, mounted 
steadily as Japan's own lawlessness went unpunished and, still more, 
when Hitler triumphantly emerged in Germany to rule without 
constitutional law and to defy international agreements. On 
19 December 1934 Japan denounced the London Naval Treaty and 
followed Hitler in unrestricted rearmament. On 16 March 1935 
Hitler repudiated the Versailles Treaty. On 25 April leading mem- 
bers of the Japanese armed services carried Tatsukichi's books to the 
roof of the Tokyo Military Club and burned them publicly. 

This symbolic repudiation of the rule of law was rapidly followed 
by the adoption of what might be termed a crude Japanese form of 
Hegelianism, which became government doctrine and was taught in 
the services and the schools. It was summarized officially by the 
Ministry of Justice: 

To the Japanese mind there has been no conception of the individual as 
opposed to the state .... Underlying western types of ideas exists an 
individualistic view of life which regards individuals as absolute, indepen- 
dent entities ... the standard of all values and themselves the highest of all 
values. [But] human beings, while having their independent existence and 


life, depend in a deeper sense on the whole and live in co-ordinated 
relationship with each other. They are born from the state, sustained by the 
state and brought up in the history and traditions of the state. Individuals 
can only exist as links in an infinite and vast chain of life called the state; 
they are links through whom the inheritance of ancestors is handed down to 
posterity .... Individuals participate in the highest and greatest value when 
they serve the state as part of it. 11 

The statement was mendacious because the philosophy in this form 
was an import from Europe, and misleading because those in Japan 
who most emphatically subscribed to it were the first to disobey and 
assault the state when its policies were not wholly subject to their 
control. In any case, the state was not an entity but a collection of 
warring factions, with murder as the arbiter. Putting military men in 
charge of ministries did not solve any problems: they were just as 
liable to be assassinated as civilians. Taking decisions collectively 
was no protection either: the gunmen developed the technique of 
collective assassination. Besides, the military were as divided as the 
civilian parties. The navy wanted a 'Southern' policy, expanding into 
the Far Eastern colonies and islands of the Dutch, French and British, 
rich in the raw materials, especially oil, which Japan lacked. The 
army wanted expansion into the Asian mainland. But they, too, were 
divided into 'Northerners', who wanted to build up Manchuria and 
strike at Russia; and 'Southerners', who wanted to take the Chinese 
cities and push up its great river valleys. None of these men, or the 
civilian politicians who sided with them, thought through their plans 
to their ultimate consequences. They were all brilliant tacticians; 
none was a strategist. Everyone had striking ideas about beginning a 
war; but from first to last, from 1931 to the hour of the bitter defeat 
in 1945, no Japanese, civil or military, worked out realistically how 
the war was likely to end. How could that be? To be known to argue 
that, in certain circumstances, defeat was possible, was to risk death. 
When debate was inhibited by physical fear, and changes of political 
direction brought about by slaughter, cold-blooded calculation - the 
essence of Realpolitik - became impossible. The truth is, as the 
1930s progressed, Japan was ruled and her policies determined not 
by any true system of government but by an anarchy of terror. 

The watershed was 1935-6. On 12 August 1935, the faction- 
fighting spread to the armed forces, when General Tetsuzan Nagata, 
Chief of the Military Affairs Bureau, was hacked to death by a 
radical colonel, Saburo Aizawa. Aizawa declared at his trial: 'I failed 
to dispatch Nagata with one stroke of my sword, and as a fencing 
instructor I am bitterly ashamed.' 12 But he was ashamed of nothing 
else and used his protracted trial to make violent anti-establishment 


war propaganda. It was still going on when the elections of 20 Fe- 
bruary 1936 saw a recovery of parliamentary liberalism - for what it 
was worth. Five days later there was an evening party at the house of 
the American Ambassador, Joseph Grew. Grew was deaf, and it is 
characteristic of the difficulties of working with Japan that, during 
his audiences with the Tenno, he could not hear a word of what the 
interpreter said as it was an unforgivable offence to speak above a 
whisper in the Emperor's presence. 13 But Grew's wife, a grand- 
daughter of the famous Commander Perry, spoke perfect Japanese, 
and their house was a caravanserai of Japanese constitutionalism. 
That evening their guests included Admiral Makoto Saito, the Privy 
Seal, and Admiral Kantaro Suzuki, the Chamberlain. After dinner 
Grew showed them the Nelson Eddy-Jeanette MacDonald film 
Naughty Marietta, which was much relished, the Japanese wives 
weeping copious tears of appreciation. 14 

Early the next morning, 1,500 men of the Tokyo garrison, 
including the Guards, two crack infantry regiments and artillery 
units, staged a putsch. They took the law courts, the Diet building, 
and the headquarters of the army, navy and police; and they 
surrounded the Imperial Palace. Assassination squads, armed with 
swords (for honour) and Thomson sub-machine-guns (for efficiency), 
were sent to the residences of the leading members of the govern- 
ment. Saito was murdered. So was the head of Military Education, 
and the Finance Minister. Suzuki, though injured, was saved by the 
heroism of his wife. The Prime Minister, Admiral Okada, a prime 
target since he had just announced that the elections meant a return 
to constitutional rule, was also saved by his wife, who locked him in 
a cupboard, and the hit-squad gunned down his brother by mistake. 
The ultimate object of the plot was to murder and replace the 
Emperor; but he survived too, and the navy and imperial guards 
forced the mutineers to surrender four days later. Thirteen leading 
rebels were tried hastily and executed in secret - only two committed 
hara-kiri, though all were given the chance to do so. It was notable 
that throughout this grisly episode, nobody concerned — the victims, 
their colleagues, the Emperor, senior army and navy officers, police, 
bodyguards, and least of all the murderers themselves — behaved 
with anything other than cowardice and pusillanimity. The only 
exceptions were the despised womenfolk, the wives and maid- 
servants of the ministers, who showed extraordinary courage and 
resourcefulness. 15 

The attempted putsch was widely interpreted as pro-Nazi, but it is 
more probable that its authors were, in some cases wittingly in others 
unwittingly, servants of Soviet policy. Their manifesto denounced 
the 'many people whose chief aim and purpose have been to amass 


personal material wealth disregarding the general welfare and pro- 
sperity of the Japanese people .... The Genro, the senior statesmen, 
military cliques, plutocrats, bureaucrats and political parties are all 
traitors who are destroying the national essence.' 16 The young 
officers involved were quite prepared to introduce a form of Com- 
munism into Japan, through a mixture of Marxism and Kodo (the 
'Imperial Way') with a Communist puppet-Emperor. This was the 
view of the Soviet agent Richard Sorge, who worked from within the 
Nazi embassy. He guessed, and so informed his masters in Moscow, 
that the mutiny would favour Soviet policy since it would mark a 
movement away from the 'Northern' tactic of confrontation with 
Russia along the Manchukuo border, and towards the further 
penetration of China. That was doubly welcome to Stalin since an 
all-out war between China and Japan would not only rule out an 
attack on his vulnerable eastern bases but, in all probability, force 
Chiang and the Kuomintang to drop their differences with the 
Chinese Communists, form a Popular Front, and thus hasten the 
moment when the whole of China would join the Soviet bloc. 17 

That, indeed, is exactly what happened. The mutineers had 
wanted a more a